The Anti-Terrorism Act faced fresh challenges before the Supreme Court on Thursday, as opposition grows ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte's State of the Nation Address next week. His top security adviser however said the law has enough safeguards.
The Anti-Terrorism Act took effect on July 18, but still lacks an IRR or implementing rules and regulations to guide authorities. Critics said the law could be used to crack down on dissent during the COVID-19 pandemic. National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said on Wednesday the law excludes activism from what could be defined as terrorism.
Several groups including the framers of the 1987 Constitution, lawmakers, lawyers and journalists are to file separate petitions on Thursday. The day before, former Supreme Court Justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio Morales led a petition to void the law, citing the danger it posed to the innocent. In total, 12 petitions have been filed challenging the Anti-Terror Act.
The law expands the definition of terrorism and allows authorities to detain suspected terrorists without a warrant for up to 24 days as long as a court is notified. President Rodrigo Duterte certified it as urgent. The challenges were filed during the run-up to his penultimate State of the Nation Address on July 27.
Under the law, "It is very clear that activism is not terrorism and terrorism is not activism," said Esperon, a former military chief during the late 2000s, when the first Anti-Terrorism Law was passed.
Esperon cited Section 4 of the new law, which said the definition of terrorism "shall not include advocacy, protest, dissent, industrial or mass actions and other similar exercises." Authorities could face 10 years in jail if they place suspects under surveillance without court permission or if they arrest suspects without notifying the courts. The Commission on Human Rights should also be notified on arrests, he said.
"Napakaraming punishment nito pag nagkamali ka dito (There are a lot of punishments for violators)," he said. "With this Anti-Terror Act, we will be better equipped and capable in addressing the menace of terror."
The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 supplants the Philippines' first counter-terror legislation, the Human Security Act of 2007, which was passed as security forces battled the Abu Sayyaf bandit group and the communist New People's Army.