Court asked to issue TRO against anti-terrorism law


    SENATORS, media practitioners and lawyers who have a filed petition questioning the constitutionality of Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 yesterday urged the Supreme Court to immediately issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop its implementation.

    Among those who signed the urgent plea were senators Leila de Lima and Francis Pangilinan; former senators Sergio Osmeña III and Wigberto Tañada Sr.; former congressmen Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III and Loreta Ann Rosales; lawyers Jose Manuel Diokno, Edmundo Garcia, and Lutgardo Barbo; and media practitioners Ma. Ceres Doyo, Josefa Maglipon, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, Rachel Khan, Ma. Rosario Hofileña, Lilibeth Socorro Frondoso, Ma. Teresa Vitug, Mario Nery Jr., Beatrice Fuente, and Florangel Rosario-Braid.

    In their plea, they said the recent statement of Armed Forces chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay, calling for the regulation of social media to be included in the controversial measure, is a form of prior restraint and a weapon against free speech and dissent.

    Gapay has said terrorist groups have used social media to “radicalize” the youth and later clarified that he was proposing to regulate social media platforms “on the content that they allow to be uploaded.”

    “The casual conflation of `radicalization’ with `terrorism by a ranking officer of the law does not portend a measured, tolerant and even-handed implementation of a dangerously vague law,” they said in their 10-page petition filed by the Free Legal Assistance Group.

    They also argued that content-based restrictions on the freedom of speech, expression and the press and the right to peaceably assemble are all presumptively unconstitutional and “bear a heavy presumption of invalidity.”

    They said Gapay’s statements also confirm that the new law “is both so overbroad and vague that it is susceptible to being used for an unconditional end, that is, a weapon against free speech and dissent.”

    They also said the SC has not hesitated to issue an injunction when faced with a similar unconstitutional governmental action, including content-based regulations, and those that violate free speech.

    This include the Arroyo-time landmark decision in David vs Arroyo where it declared as unconstitutional the warrantless search of the offices of the Daily Tribune, and Chavez vs Gonzales where it ruled as unconstitutional prior restraint the government warnings against the airing and publishing of the “Hello Garci” tape scandal.

    Likewise, they said issuing an injunction does not constitute a prejudgment of the main case but would help stop “injustice, and grave and irreparable injury” to the petitioners and others.”

    All 29 petitions filed so far against the measure that was signed by President Duterte last month have called not only for the new law to be declared null and void for being unconstitutional but also for the issuance of a TRO or a writ of preliminary injunction to stop its implementation while the merits of their plea are being heard.

    The SC has scheduled oral arguments on the petitions next month, a move that Solicitor General Jose Calida has opposed on logistical reasons and health threats due to the COVID-19 pandemic.