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Muslim lawmakers, imam ask Supreme Court to junk anti-terror law

Muslim lawmakers, lawyers and an imam on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to nullify the anti-terrorism law, citing fears of arrests and constraints in the practice of their faith.

In at least the 22nd petition against the controversial law, Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman, Anak Mindanao Party-list Representative Amihilda Sangcopan, imam Sheikh Jamsiri Jainal, and five others also urged the court to issue a temporary restraining order that would prevent the government from enforcing the measure.

The petitioners said the law infringes on their right to freely exercise their religion.

Because the law punishes "inciting" to commit terrorism, they said it deters them from openly expressing and teaching their belief in the concept of "jihad," which they said has erroneously come to be known as a "terrorist attack" due to growing Islamophobia, the 9/11 attack in the United States, and the rise of ISIS.

They also argued the law constitutes prior restraint because it compels Muslims from "freely and publicly discussing their religious beliefs."

Hataman's group is at least the second to object to the anti-terrorism law specifically because of fears of religious discrimination.

In an earlier petition, Muslim lawyers also cited the arrests of their fellow Muslims due to "mistaken identity" and stereotyping.

In the new petition, Hataman and his co-petitioners further argued the law is unconstitutional because it empowers the Anti-Terrorism Council to "designate" groups and individual persons as terrorists, and to issue a written authority for arrests based on suspicion.

Under the new law, suspected terrorists arrested without a warrant may be detained for up to 24 days before they have to be charged in court.

Critics of the law, including the petitioners, said this violates the Constitution, which authorizes only judges to order arrests. They also said this is much longer than the 3-day maximum detention period for suspects arrested in times of invasion or rebellion, when martial law is declared and the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended.

In addition, they claimed the law was not legally passed by the House of Representatives due to lack of quorum, saying only 25 members were physically present at the time and that the rest voted remotely and online. They said this was "unprecedented and without constitutional basis."

Hataman's group also told the SC that the law's definition of terrorism is vague.

"The fear is not unfounded," they said, citing reports of years of wrongful detention of a number of Muslim Filipinos.

"This is more than several simple cases of mistaken identity. This is prejudice and injustice based in unfounded fear of Muslims. It is religious discrimination, plain and simple," they said.

The petitioners said the law "threatens to legalize these clearly abhorrent state actions" and "threatens to 'sacrifice liberty in exchange for security.'"

"Peace at any price is not peace, and the human cost is beyond exorbitant," they said.

Retired justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio Morales, opposition lawmakers, lawyers, human rights advocates, youth leaders, labor groups, journalists, artists, activists, and social media personalities have also challenged the law before the SC.

More groups are expected to file petitions. — BM, GMA News