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Human rights groups, lawyers, students vow to continue challenging anti-terror law


Several human rights groups, lawyers, and students on Thursday expressed their dissent over the Supreme Court’s (SC) decision which declared the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 as constitutional, except for two parts.

The SC voided the phrase, "...which are 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," found in Section 4e of the of Republic Act 11479 for being "overboard and violative of freedom of expression."

The second method of designation—wherein request for designation by other jurisdictions may be adopted by the Anti-Terrorism Council—was also declared as unconstitutional by the high court.

Bayan Muna chairperson and counsel-petitioner Neri Colmenares acknowledged this decision as it “corrects the erroneous and dangerous view of the law’s proponents that equate activism with terrorism.”

“We welcome the effort by the High Court to protect our civil and political rights from the overreach of such a draconian and dangerous law,” he said.

Colmenares, however, added they will continue to challenge SC’s declaration that almost all the other provisions of the law are not unconstitutional. He said they may file a Motion for Reconsideration to challenge these provisions that have a “devastating effect on human rights and civil liberties.”

iDefend also backed this call, saying that the law has “deadly consequences” particularly on legitimate activists who exercise their right to defend human rights. It said this is part of Duterte’s “authoritarian apparatus” to fight off the freedom of expression and association in the country.

“iDefend strongly condemns the Court’s ruling which cements Duterte’s authoritarian rule, legitimizes atrocities against human rights defenders and facilitates the wholesale abrogation of fundamental civil and political rights in the guise of counter-terrorism,” it said in a statement.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes also acknowledged the decision as a “win,” yet he said that other provisions still need to be challenged.

“Our main win from the SC ruling on the terror law is that activism is not terrorism. This is a partial victory for petitioners as protests and advocacy are not acts of terror, period. But the dangerous provisions of the terror law remain and can still be abused by the Anti Terror Council,” he said.

Karapatan, an alliance for the advancement of people's rights, said that the SC’s decision to adopt “repressive” provisions will only “worsen the already dismal human rights situation in the country.”

“The ATC’s power to designate individuals and organizations as ‘terrorists’ is not only arbitrary: as pointed out by Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa during the oral arguments, the process of designation ‘already achieves the purpose of proscription.’ It has also proven to be deadly,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

Meanwhile, Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said the SC decision may increase the number of political prisoners in the country when they are red-tagged by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“The Supreme Court better be prepared for the carnage it will legalize as its decision can provide virtual license for the NTF-ELCAC to stage larger and bloodier punitive actions to crush targeted left organizations and individuals before Duterte’s term ends,” he said.

LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women's Rights) also noted that the terror law may “spell more thorns” in the lives and struggles of indigenous women and their communities.

It cited the warrantless arrest cases of two Aeta men, Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, in 2020. It said these men were detained and got released only after almost a year after fleeing their community in Zambales because of the bombings and military operations.

“The indigenous peoples (IP) have been at the center of this dangerous mindset. For asserting their rights to their ancestral domain, and defending their lands from large-scale extractive projects, the government easily targets the IPs. This controversial law is designed to silence critics [and] adds more thorns to their existing struggle for their land, and their survival,” it said.

Akbayan Partylist also expressed its ‘grave disappointment’ at the SC’s recent decision to uphold the Anti-Terrorism Law, calling it a "devastating blow" for human rights.

The progressive group said that while it welcomes the high tribunal's move to strike down certain provisions of the measure which it deemed detrimental to the right to dissent, the measure largely is still a threat to human rights and political and civil liberties.

It said that even as it acknowledges that terrorism is a serious threat which needs to be addressed, government measures meant to address it should not be turned against ordinary citizens.

"This is a devastating blow for human rights and democracy. The Supreme Court missed the opportunity to defend the Filipino people's human rights and democracy," Akbayan first nominee Percival Cendana said in a press statement.

Lawyers

On the other hand, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said while they are “glad and assured” that a qualifier in Section 4 was struck down, the rest of the provisions of the Republic Act 11479 “remain in the books, for now.”

“We will certainly regroup and close ranks and file a motion for reconsideration. We will not allow the dying of the flickering light of our basic rights,” NUPL president Edre Olalia said in a statement.

The Free Legal Assistance Group also acknowledged SC’s decision, saying that the vote “sustains their position on the issue and affirms the inherent danger posed to civil liberties by the language of the qualifier to the proviso.”

Students

Further, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines said the law “legalized harassment and abuses among Filipinos” which affects the student publications and media groups that are critical of Duterte.

It said that during its first year of implementation, they saw how the government has used the law as a weapon to “further attack critics and the press.”

“CEGP maintains its position despite the court's retention that terror law is an assault on our right to speech and press freedom, especially in times of misinformation, disinformation, and historical revisionism as the 2022 election near. This draconian law is an obvious revival of the Marcosian martial law that seeks to not just silence, but kill our opposing voices,” it said in a statement.

The ecumenical youth Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) also joined the protest as it believes the law not only affects the ordinary citizens who speak up, but also the church people.

It cited stories which include that of Pastors Dan Balucio and Benjie Gomez who were “illegally detained” in June 2020.

“Clearly, the Terror Law is against the Christian duty to uphold rights and life, the Terror Law is against the Christian imperative to stand with the oppressed,” said SCMP national spokesperson Kej Andres.

“Duterte’s Terror Law is like a vicious net that broadens those who can be branded as terrorists. Duterte did this before, especially against the urban poor, which has killed more than 30,000—most of whom did not even [have] the opportunity to present themselves in court, prove their innocence, and undergo medical-based rehabilitation,” Andres added.

The recent ruling means that other provisions in the measure—such as the 12-year imprisonment for any person who will threaten to commit terrorism — are deemed constitutional by the SC.

The same jail term will be imposed on those who will propose any terroristic act or incite others to commit terrorism.

The 14-day warrantless detention period for suspected terrorists, which can be extended by 10 days, will also remain.

The said human rights groups and other organizations will be gathering for a mass demonstration on Friday to seek the junking of the terror law, in line with the International Human Rights Day.—AOL, GMA News

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