HUMAN rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno yesterday told justices of the Supreme Court that Filipinos who exercise their rights by posting on social media may find themselves at risk under the controversial Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
Diokno, chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group, issued the statement at the start of oral arguments on 37 petitions questioning the constitutionality of RA 11479.
The law was signed by President Duterte in July last year despite opposition from a number of sectors including legal luminaries, human rights groups, civil society organizations, youth leaders, media men.
Diokno said the law dispenses with the requirement of a “predicate crime” as it is worded in a way that gives law enforcers the power to “infer” intent behind protest actions, work stoppages, and other acts of civil and political rights.
He said that since intent is generally inferred from a person’s act, the law gives State agents the power to arrest any citizen based on their subjective impression of his or her intent.
The anti-terror law exempts these activities from the definition of terrorism, but only as long as these are “not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life or create a serious risk to public safety.”
What is worse, Diokno said, is that the law allows the State to simply presume the existence of intent from one’s act, even if the acts themselves do not constitute a crime.
“Anyone, therefore, who tweets for people to attend a peaceful rally could be arrested for engaging in acts intended to endanger a person’s life due to the danger of COVID infection.
Anyone who posts on Facebook for people to boycott a digital services company owned by someone close to the President, or who engages in a transport strike, could be arrested for engaging in acts intended to cause extensive interference with critical infrastructure,” Diokno said.
He told the justices that if the anti-terror law was already in place during the 1986 EDSA “People Power” uprising, Cardinal Jaime Sin’s call for people to mass against the Marcos dictatorship would “easily qualify as inciting to terrorism.”
“By exhorting the people to gather at EDSA, Cardinal Sin incited them to engage in acts intended to cause extensive interference with critical infrastructure and to endanger people’s lives. Cardinal Sin’s call would also qualify as seriously destabilizing the country’s fundamental political structure and creating a public emergency. These are but some examples of how the law invades areas protected by the Constitution,” he added.
Former Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz said the anti-terror law is “constitutionally infirm” and does more harm to civil liberties than provide security against terrorists.
“In battling terrorism, it formally sanctions warrantless arrests, prolonged detention, unreasonable searches and seizures, unwarranted intrusion into private communication and correspondence, right to expression and assembly, denial of bail and the presumption of innocence,” Cadiz said.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman questioned the maximum 24 days of detention without warrant allowed under the new law, saying that it defies more than a century of libertarian principles enjoyed by Filipinos against unreasonable seizures of their persons. He said even at the height of martial law, arrest warrants were issued by judges.
Two Aetas charged and detained under RA 11479 asked the Supreme Court to allow them to intervene in the petitions, citing direct injury.
Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos through the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers filed the petition hours before the oral arguments started.
Gurung and Ramos were the first to claim direct injury from the law. All the other petitions are questioning the legality of the law based on text alone.
Gurung and Ramos were charged before the Olongapo city regional trial court for allegedly killing Army Sgt. Rudil Dilao and for illegal possession of firearms and explosives. The two were accused of firing at members of the 73rd Division Reconnaissance Company of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division in San Marcelino, Zambales that resulted in Dilao’s death.
They were charged under Section 4 (a) of the anti-terrorism act which “punishes a person who engage in acts intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person, or endangers a person’s life.” The two are still detained since terrorism under Section 4 (a) is a non-bailable offense.
Gurung and Ramos said they were tortured and falsely accused of killing Dilao. They told the SC they were actually evacuating their homes to avoid getting caught in the crossfire when they were accosted by the military.
Gurung and Ramos denied being members of the communist New People’s Army.
They said their case shows the dangers of the anti-terrorism law.