March 22, 2023

President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 (ATL) before it would by itself lapse into law by July 9.
We agree that the State must protect itself from terroristic acts, especially under the clear and present danger rule, and it may be a necessary evil that one has to live with. The same, however, must be subject to the limits enshrined in the Constitution, which should neither be trifled with nor trampled upon. The ball is now in the hands of the gods in Padre Faura, the Supreme Court, to judge.
As an amicus curiae (friend of the court), unsolicited observations necessarily follow. There are provisions which will infringe on the basic rights of our people. Section 2 of the ATL allows the detention of suspected persons under a warantless arrest for 14 days extendible to 24 days even without a formal charge.
Under the Human Security Act of 2007 (HSA), the precursor of the ATL, a person arrested must be charged in court within three days, otherwise he should be released. Under the Revised Penal Code, depending on the gravity of the crime, detention has a maximum of 36 hours. We should not copy Singapore, as the author compares, which has a reglementary period of 732 days, and which could be extended indefinitely. We are a democracy, the former is not.
Surveillance and wiretapping is another matter. Under the HSA, surveillance of suspected terrorists can be done only upon approval of the Court of Appeals for 30 days. Under the ATL, surveillance may be done for 60 days without seeking CA approval. It is only when an additional 30 days, would it require court intercession. Total therefore for surveillance and wiretapping is 90 days.
The ATL also “eradicates” the “inviolable fundamental right” against unreasonable arrests. Section 29 allows the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), a purely executive body composed of Cabinet secretaries, to issue warrants of arrest. Even a first year Law student knows that only a judge can issue warrants of arrest which of course can be issued only if there is probable cause. In fact, the ATC is so powerful that it is authorized to order arrests without probable cause and even if an individual has not yet committed any act of terrorism since “intent” (to commit terrorist acts) is included in the definition of terrorism.
What if you were detained for 24 days maximum and you are then subsequently cleared. Would government compensate you for the lost days of unwanted detention? Negative.
Under the HSA, once you are cleared of the accusation, government is bound to pay you P500,000 for each day of detention.
The author claims that they removed the compensation for those wrongfully detained because it was one of the provisions that made the HSA “toothless” and this is what kept the Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and even the National Bureau of Investigation from filing cases under the HSA. The argument, with due respect, is not tenable because in the first place, they should have not arrested or filed cases without sufficient and concrete evidence to back them up. The ordinary citizen must not suffer for sloppy police or law enforcement work.
The definition of terrorism under ATL is so wide leading to vagueness. Inciting to commit terrorism can be committed though speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems or other representations whether written, verbal or visual that incites others to commit terrorism. The ATC can label individuals, groups or organizations as suspected terrorists and as long as an allegation that there was “intent” to commit terrorism is made, Juan de la Cruz gets to spend time in jail.
A forum on the Covid-19 may be tagged as a terroristic act as if it causes “widespread fear” among those who listen to it. Not only does it have a devastating effect on the freedom of expression, it also hampers on the right to travel, restricts movement, prevents peaceful assembly.
There may be a clear and present danger indeed, but the real danger is the threat on our liberties as a people. Edmund Burke said “for evil to succeed, all it takes is for good men to do nothing” and at the very minimum, hope that someone out there is listening. We can only trust and pray or maybe pray but not trust. Sigh.