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New anti-terrorism law also tramples on right to privacy —Bayan Muna solons

Apart from encroaching on freedom of speech and expression, the newly enacted Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 also tramples on the right of Filipinos to privacy, representatives of the Bayan Muna party-list said.

In a statement, Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate said that while right to privacy is the least discussed among the issues that may be affected by the new anti-terrorism law, "this substantive right would be one of the most severely hit when the law is implemented."

Zarate and his fellow representatives from the Makabayan Bloc are among the groups that have questioned the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 before the Supreme Court only days after it was enacted.

In their petition, the Makabayan lawmakers said the right to privacy is “a liberty that occupies a preferred position in the hierarchy of rights." Hence, “it is given a priority that gives it sanctity and a sanction not permitting dubious intrusion” from the government.

Zarate assailed Section 16 of the law, which he said gives "unbridled" authority to the police and the military to choose who to be subjected to surveillance and intercepting and recording of communications.

"Because of the preferred status accorded by the Constitution to the right to privacy, any law that infringes on the said right is heavily presumed with unconstitutionality," Zarate said.

"In Ople v. Torres, the Supreme Court declared that laws that infringe on the right to privacy must overcome the Strict Scrutiny Test for the same to be considered constitutional," he added.

Under the Strict Scrutiny Test, a law will be able to hurdle a constitutional challenge if there is a compelling government interest and there are no other less restrictive means to achieve it.

But Bayan Muna party-list Representative Ferdinand Gaite said the new anti-terrorism law is not necessary in achieving the government interest, as it proposes, as “there are enough criminal laws already in place to deter the terror acts defined under Section 4 of the law."

"As such, the terror law does not constitute a sufficient reason to invade the privacy of a person, much less in an unbridled manner," he added.

At the same time, Gaite said that "active police work and strict implementation of the criminal laws in place are more than enough to defeat the acts the terror law seeks to crush, and that this is certainly allowable under the constitution as there would be no need to infringe on the constitutional right to privacy."

He added that the law "does not offer safeguards to protect our liberties" and "it is too broad and too vague that anybody can be surveilled on under the law."

"The solution is for Congress to craft a law that is not vague and overbroad so as not to encroach on areas of protected freedom," Gaite said.

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Eufemia Cullamat, for her part, said that due to the vague and broad definition of terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020, the mere refusal to accept government policies could already be branded as terrorism.

"Maski simpleng post sa Facebook na tumutuligsa sa kapalpakan ng gobyerno sa paglutas sa pandemya ng COVID ay maaaring gamitin para manmanan ang nag-post nito saka i-monitor at i-record ang paggamit ng internet ng taong ito sa loob ng 60-90 araw," she said.

"Ang terror law ay isang napakalaking banta hindi lang sa ating right to privacy kundi sa ating demokrasya mismo," she added.

Apart from the Makabayan Bloc, at least two other parties have also filed a petition before the Supreme Court questioning the new anti-terrorism law, namely the group of former Education Secretary Armin Luistro and a group of lawyers including Howard Calleja, and Albay Representative Edcel Lagman.

Malacañang has said it will accept whatever decision the Supreme Court may arrive at regarding the petitions against the law. — BM, GMA News