DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday urged the public not to be swayed by disinformation efforts of critics of the newly-signed anti-terrorism
“It is a much-needed measure to clothe law enforcement agencies with the necessary power to contain and eradicate terrorists who don’t play by any rules and who hide behind our laws to pursue their evil deeds,” said Lorenzana.
President Duterte on Friday signed Republic Act 11479 of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which repealed the Human security Act of 2007.
On Saturday, group of lawyers questioned before the Supreme Court the constitutionality of the new law which it said is “oppressive and inconsistent with our constitution.” A similar petition will be filed today by several lawyers of the Far Eastern University led by FEU Law dean Mel Sta. Maria.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the government is prepared to defend the new law in court.
Duterte signed RA 11479 amid opposition from several sectors which warned of violations of the Constitution and civil and political rights.
“We appeal to the public to give this law a chance and not to be swayed by misinformation and disinformation. We urge everyone to read and understand the law,” said Lorenzana who is among respondents in the case filed on Saturday, together with Esperon, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.
“We assure the public that we will strictly implement this law according to its intent and spirit. We will ensure that it is not abused,” Lorenzana also said.
AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the law will give soldiers more teeth “to fight and defeat terrorist groups.”
He said the Human Security Act, which was repealed by the new anti-terrorism law, set back instead of helped security forces in the counter-terrorism campaign. He cited the P500,000 fine for each day of wrongful detention of a suspect.
Arevalo said the law is not a form of militarization, disputing claims of some quarters that the law will be targeting activism.
“We believe this is part of the disinformation by people who know they are going to be targeted by this law,” he said.
“Dissent, rallies, demonstrations, gatherings to express opinion and to voice and redress their grievance is not considered as terrorism. So they have nothing to worry about if they want to voice out their sentiments,” he said.
Año said the new law is a “big help” as government will now be “well-equipped in defeating the terrorists.”
Esperon said people are still free to express dissent, criticize and even stage protest rallies, provided that they are within the bounds of law.
He said mere “activism is not terrorism and terrorism is not activism.”
He also said the bill underwent 25 days of review by the President’s legal team before he decided to sign it.
He asked those opposing the anti-terrorism law if they have forgotten the kidnapping, beheading, bombings, assassinations and other acts committed by terrorists.
The Supreme Court may not be able to tackle the petition filed by a group of lawyers led by Howard Calleja during their regular en banc session on Tuesday.
A court insider said the reason might be time constraints because the justices have to first conduct a raffle today to choose who among them will be the member-in-charge of the petition. The justices may also ask for more time to study the petition.
“They may ask for more time before the deliberation,” the insider said.
In their plea which was filed electronically, the petitioners challenged 11 provisions in the new law, including on the definition of terrorism, how it is committed, recruitment and membership in terror organizations, surveillance of suspects and interception and recording of communications as well as detention of suspects without court issued warrants of arrests.
They said the law could be “weaponized” by the government to target critics and even the opposition.
Aside from Calleja, among those who signed the petition are former Education Secretary Armin Luistro and civic society groups Frontliners: Tunay na Bayani and Bagong Siklab Pilipinas.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers said they would also file a similar petition but that they are still gathering more petitioners and evaluating more issues and facts to be included.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Panelo said the President himself will not allow abuses in the implementation of the law.
He said reiterated that RA 11479 contains safeguards against violations of political and civil rights.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, principal sponsor of the measure, welcomed the petition, saying the constitutionality of the law will now be determined by the SC.
“That’s democracy at work. Mabuti na rin yan. After all, at the end of the day, SC ang puwede lang mag-arbitrate at mag-interpret kung constitutional ba o hindi (That’s democracy at work. That is better. After all, at the end of the day, the SC is the only one which can arbitrate and interpret if the law is constitutional or not),” Lacson told a radio interview last Saturday.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan urged critics to question the new law before the Supreme Court.
He reiterated the new law will be used not only against real terrorists but also against those who oppose the government. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Ashzel Hachero, and Raymond Africa