A lawyer-petitioner on Tuesday warned the Supreme Court that even Filipinos who are exercising their fundamental rights on social media may be considered as committing terrorism crimes under the controversial Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
During the oral arguments on the petitions assailing the constitutionality of the anti-terrorism law, human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno told the SC magistrates the law was worded in a way that gives enforcers the power to infer the “intent” of undertaking protests, work stoppages and other exercises of civil and political rights.
Diokno, one of lawyers representing the 37 petitioners in the oral arguments, noted the law exempted these activities from the definition of terrorism, but only as long as they were "not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person's life, or to create a serious risk to public safety."
At the same time, two Aeta tribesmen, reportedly the first known to be charged with the violation of ATA, have appealed to the Supreme Court to stop the government from implementing the controversial law until it has ruled on its constitutionality.
In a petition-in-intervention filed with the SC on Tuesday, the petitioner-intervenors Japer Gurung of San Marcelino, Zambales and Junior Ramos of Porac, Pampanga through lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers Central Luzon Chapter, asked the high court to issue a status quo ante order or temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction to restrain the government from implementing the anti-terrorism law.
The two intervenors sought to enjoin the government officials and their agencies that were named respondents in the 37 petitions, from further implementing ATA pending resolution of the case against Republic Act No. 11479.
Almost seven months since the Supreme Court was swamped with petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, the Supreme Court finally held its first oral arguments on the contentious law — amid strict observance of the health protocols being implemented by the government due to the coronavirus-2019 pandemic.
Lawyers of the 37 petitioners asked the magistrates to scrap the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and instead uphold the supremacy of the provisions of the Constitution over the controversial law.
Former Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Jose Anselmo Cadiz argued that Filipinos are facing “real and imminent danger” to both constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties and separation of powers.
Cadiz considered the current controversy between the 1987 Constitution and the ATA as “a colossal battle.”
“Presently, the Anti-Terror Law is running roughshod over the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights,” he stressed.
“We thus come to plead with you to snatch our Constitution from the jaws of defeat and restore its primacy, against the Anti-Terror Law,” said Cadiz, who also served as Solicitor General during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.
Diokno expressed apprehension the anti-terrorism law put the petitioners, many of whom are activists, at the risk of being arrested and prosecuted on mere "subjective impression" of law enforcers of what their intent was.
"Anyone therefore who tweets for people to attend a peaceful rally could be arrested for engaging in acts intended to endanger a person's life due to the danger of COVID infection," Diokno argued.
"Anyone who posts on Facebook for the people to boycott a digital services company owned by someone close to the president or who engages in a transport strike could be arrested for engaging in acts intended to cause extensive interference with critical infrastructure since the term includes telecommunications and transportation," he warned.
According to Diokno, if only the law had existed in 1986 when the EDSA People Power Revolution took place, " Cardinal Sin's call for people power would easily qualify as inciting to terrorism."
"By exhorting the people to gather at EDSA, Cardinal Sin incited them to engage in acts intended to cause extensive interference with critical infrastructure and to endanger people's lives," he said.
"People Power brought Metro Manila to a standstill, disrupted essential public services and had a debilitating impact on national defense, security and public safety," he added.
The petitioners sought the SC to declare ATA as unconstitutional because it effectively curtails the people’s right to right to protest as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.
The petitioners have also questioned the law's provision on warrantless arrests and the powers of the executive Anti-Terrorism Council.
Last Sept. 10, Gurung and Ramos were indicted by the Office of the Prosecutor of Zambales for reportedly violating Section 4 (a) of the ATA or Republic Act 11479 or for engaging “in acts intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person or endangers a person’s life”.
The prosecutor reportedly also found probable cause to file illegal possession of firearms and explosives under RA 9156 or an Act Further Amending the Provisions of Presidential Decree 1866 and RA 10591or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunitions Regulation Act against them.
The two Aetas are currently detained at the Olongapo City Jail.
They raised three issues on whether they have legal standing to intervene; whether section 4 of the ATA is vague and should be struck down as unconstitutional for being violative of their right to due process; and whether they are entitled to injunctive relief.
According to them, since they were the first to taste the effect of the ATA, they have legal right to the instant case despite the lack of any factual and legal bases, they were charged with violation of section 4 (a) of the ATA.
“Hence, we have suffered a direct personal injury for being charged and detained under a vague and void law.”
“If the assailed law will be upheld, they will have to endure trial for a prohibited conduct of which they were not appraised, since they were neither committing any acts of terrorism nor were they part of a terrorist organization or association when they were arrested,” they said.
They told the high court that their ordeal was reportedly in the hands of the soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines 73rd Division Reconnaissance Company, 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.