PH Supreme Court rules parts of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 unconstitutional

by Jay Domingo, PDM Staff Writer

| Photo Credit Philippine Supreme Court

NEW YORK – The Philippine Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, Dec. 9, that parts of the controversial anti-terrorism law, Republic Act No. 11479, known as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, were unconstitutional. Twelve of the 15 justices voted to strike out a line in Section 4 (e): Public protests, dissent, work stoppages, and other exercises of political rights would not be considered acts of terrorism as long as these “are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm … or to create a serious risk to public safety.” They said the qualifying conditions were “overbroad and violative of freedom of expression.”

Nine justices also declared Section 25 of the law that it was unconstitutional for the anti-terrorism council to designate people and groups as terrorists based on the requests of other countries or international organizations.

Opponents hailed the court’s decision as a “partial victory.” Renato Reyes, secretary-general of Bayan, said, “Our main win from the SC ruling on the terror law is that activism is not terrorism. That is a partial victory for petitioners as protests and advocacy are not acts of terror.”

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down certain dangerous provisions of Duterte’s Anti-Terror Law. This is a partial victory for the Filipino people who have marched, petitioned, and protested this dangerous legislation,” said Yves Nibungco of the Malaya Movement USA.

The anti-terror law, which replaced Republic Act No. 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2020, has alarmed some lawyers and human rights activists. They feared the government would use the law to suppress free speech and harass government critics since the law grants to police and sweeping military powers to tackle security threats. Still, legal experts had warned its overly broad articles could open the door to discriminatory enforcement, privacy infringements, and suppression of peaceful dissent. Political activists, critics, and dissenters filed 37 petitions asking the court to declare the law unconstitutional.

Government officials welcomed the court decision. But a group of lawmakers called the ruling a “devastating blow to human rights” and another vowing to stage a protest against it on International Human Rights Day on Friday.

“We will march to the streets and amplify our voices against the perils of this terrifying law as well as the resurgence of any form or variant of authoritarianism,” said Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers.

U.S.-based Filipino activists have called for a total strike-down of the Anti-Terror Law. The Malaya Movement has rallied its members nationwide for a National Week of Action for Human Rights from Dec. 9 to Dec. 13.

“The entire Anti-Terror Law must be completely junked. The Anti-Terror Law, in the hands of Duterte, remains a threat to civil liberties, human rights and democracy in the Philippines and critics of the Duterte regime overseas. We reiterate that activism is not a crime,” Nibungco said.

On Monday, Dec. 13, at 9 a.m. EST, U.S. Representative Susan Wild will be hosting a congressional briefing on the Philippines. Malaya has urged its members to contact their legislators to attend a briefing on The Human Rights Crisis in the Philippines & U.S. Policy. The briefing “will feature resource speakers from the Philippines to speak on first hand accounts of the overall human rights situation, labor repression, attacks on the human rights defenders, activists and other critics, and the climate of the Philippine presidential elections.”

Later that day, Malaya Movement USA, BAYAN USA, and the International Coalition on Human Rights Philippines-US (ICHRP-US) will have an emergency online rally and webinar in response to the Supreme Court’s decision on the Anti-Terror Law at 8:30 p.m. EST.

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