President Rodrigo Duterte said that communist rebels or terrorists are the least of his concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, as he assured the public that they have nothing to fear from the new Anti-Terror Act of 2020, which critics say is open to abuse.
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“This left or the communists, they think that we are always thinking of them. I don’t—I know that we are also thinking of other matters, as a matter of fact they are the least that we are spending our time [on],” the President said.
The President said “law-abiding citizens” should not fear the anti-terror law, as he reiterated that communist rebels are terrorists under the controversial measure.
“They would like to be treated with another set of laws. When as a matter of fact, they are terrorists,” Duterte said.
He said he had spent most of his days trying to figure out how to connect with the communists to arrive at a peaceful solution to the decades long insurgency.
Duterte reached out to the communist rebels upon assuming as President but walked away from the peace negotiations in November 2017 as both sides accused each other of ceasefire violations.
Duterte and his security officials have since labeled the communist group as terrorists.
The President also stressed that the new law is a “much-needed legal weapon” against terrorism.
Critics and oppositions immediately filed a petition with Supreme Court challenging the new law’s constitutionality.
READ: Anti-terror law critics ask SC to suspend it
Among its contentious features is a provision allowing suspected terrorists to be arrested without a warrant and detained without charges for up to 24 days.
There are now six petitions lodged before the Supreme Court seeking to declare Republic Act 11479 otherwise known as the “Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020” unconstitutional after two petitions were filed on Wednesday by a former government corporate counsel and two members of the 1986 commission that framed the 1987 Constitution.
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The fifth petition seeking to nullify RA 11479 was filed by former Office of the Government Corporate Counsel chief Rudolph Philip Jurado and the sixth petition was filed by the group of former Commission on Elections chairman Christian Monsod and Felicitas Arroyo, who were both members of defunct 1986 Constitutional Commission that framed the present constitution.
Monsod and Arroyo were joined by several faculty members of the Ateneo Law School and Ateneo Human Rights Center, and faculty members of the Xavier University College of Law and several others.
In his petition, Jurado asked the Supreme Court to nullify the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 for being unconstitutional, particularly for allegedly authorizing the Anti-Terrorism Council to waive the rights of a detainee.
In his 59-page petition, Jurado asked the justices to issue a TRO or a writ of preliminary injunction to prevent the respondents and others from enforcing the provisions of RA 11479.
Jurado asked the Court to declare RA 11479 as unconstitutional, particularly Section 4 that defines terrorism and Section 29 that covers detention without judicial warrant of arrest.
Jurado, who was appointed by President Duterte to the OGCC in April of 2017 until he was removed from his post on Sept. 27, 2018, filed the fifth petition against the controversial anti-terrorism law.
The lawyer also asked that a writ of prohibition be issued directing all persons and entities from enforcing the provisions of RA 11479 or those that have been declared unconstitutional.
Impleaded as respondents in the petition were the ATC, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, National Security Adviser (NSA) Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Felimon Santos Jr., Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Archie Francisco Gamboa, the Senate of the Philippines and the House of Representatives.
Jurado said one of the salient features of his petition, which have not been raised in the previous four petitions filed before the SC against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, was the procedural aspect of the law.
He said Section 29 of RA 11479 allegedly authorizes the ATC to extend the detention periods in Article 125 of the RPC without the consent and knowledge of the detainee.
Jurado also said Congress has violated the people’s constitutional rights to liberty, speedy disposition of cases and presumption of innocence by allowing law enforcement operatives to detain a person without any cause or without any concluded investigation against such person and detaining them for reasons not related to terrorism.
The former official warned that giving law enforcement operatives “unbridled excuse” to extend the period of detention to the detriment of the detainee’s constitutional right is dangerous.
“The line ‘necessary to complete the investigation’ is absolute—irrespective of the investigation’s subsequent results,” he said.
The petitioner also asked whether or not the House of Representatives acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction when it did not comply with the procedure in passing a bill.
President Duterte’s June 1, 2020 certification also allegedly did not possess the element of the requirement “public calamity or emergency.”
Under the Constitution, the President can only certify a bill as urgent in order “to meet a public calamity or emergency”.
However, the President’s certification did not mention these words “public calamity” or “emergency” and only said it was needed to “address an urgent need to strengthen the law on anti-terrorism”.
Monsod’s group raised similar issues against the anti-terrorism law.
The group said the definition of terrorism under Section 4 of the Act is vague enough to cover legitimate exercise of free speech, expression and assembly, which are guaranteed under the Constitution.
They also questioned the constitutionality of Section 5 that allows the creation of the ATC with vast powers to “designate” a person as a terrorist.
The group questioned Section 29 as it bars persons from expressing their thoughts, concerns and beliefs, as on mere suspicion, they can be arrested without the protection of a judicial warrant.
Another petitioner against the anti-terrorism law, Albay Rep. Rep. Edcel Lagman, said the newly-enacted law should be presumed unconstitutional because it imposes prior restraint on free speech and the right to dissent.
In a statement, Lagman said the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Social Weather Stations vs. Comelec that a law which is challenged for imposing a prior restraint on freedom of expression is presumed unconstitutional.
He said such a decision contradicts the repeated claims of the proponents of the new anti-terrorism act that it enjoys the “presumption of constitutionality.”
“Ordinarily, the presumption is that a law is constitutional. However, in cases involving the suppression of free speech, the presumption is reversed because the questioned statute is presumed unconstitutional and it is the burden of the government to prove its constitutionality,” Lagman said.
Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo Lacson agreed with the warning of the United Nations Secretary General that extremist and terrorist groups can exploit the COVID-19 pandemic and other new opportunities to strike.
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“The only timing that the terrorists know is their own. This is what I have been telling the critics of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020,” Lacson said.
The senator, a former chief of the Philippine National Police, said terrorism knows no borders.
“Surely, we do not want to be the haven of terrorists in Asia,” he said.