"All eyes on the Court now."
Despite mounting criticism, President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday signed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. In a swift reaction the following day, a group of lawyers filed, electronically, a petition before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the measure.
The petitioners—lawyers Howard Calleja and Joseph Peter J. Calleja, UP Law Professor Christopher John P. Lao, Dr. Reynaldo J. Echavez, Napoleon L. Siongco, Raeyan M. Reposar, civic groups Frontliners: Tunay na Bayani and Bagong Siklab Pilipinas, as well as Br. Armin A. Luistro, FSC, of the De La Salle Brothers, Inc.—also sought a temporary restraining order on the implementation of the law, due to take effect July 19.
They physically file the petition today.
“While threats to our national security need to be addressed, the law, as crafted, is oppressive and inconsistent with our Constitution, hence, the petition,” the group said in a social media post.
“This fight against terrorism should not and should never be a threat to the fundamental freedoms of all peaceful Filipinos,” they added.
The petition says at least 11 sections of the new law run counter to the Constitution. Among the provisions are the definition of terrorism, parameters regarding threats and inciting to commit terrorism, the recruitment of terror organizations, surveillance of terror suspects, designation of individuals and groups as terrorists, and warrantless detention, among others.
Outside of the petition, there has been much debate about the measure, after Mr. Duterte himself certified it as urgent right in the middle of a global pandemic. Many feared it would be used to suppress dissent, including those critical of how the administration responded to the public health emergency. It’s a guise, many say—after all, nobody would really say they were against fighting terrorism.
Administration officials are quick to promise that the public’s fears would be unfounded, and the law would be used only to fight real terrorism, nothing else. Still, if recent actions of law enforcers are to be considered, these assurances offer little consolation to a public that is growing hopeless and helpless, especially now that COVID-19 numbers appear to be worsening even as our leaders commit one blunder after another.
Much rests on the Supreme Court. This court of last resort has the competence and authority to determine whether the public’s fears are founded, and if the law could be abused for purposes other than beating terrorists.
For now, all eyes are on how the associate justices resolve this urgent, and divisive, issue. We will be watching.