IBP: Anti-Terrorism Bill provisions are unconstitutional

In this file photo: Protesters march at the UP campus to air their objection to the anti-terrorism bill. (BERNARD TESTA)

THE Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) has registered its objection to the signing into law of the Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB) citing some of its provisions that go against the 1987 Constitution. 

The group submitted its opposition to the “unconstitutional” ATB provisions upon the request of  the Office of the President-Deputy Secretary for Legislative Affairs (OP-DESLA)  .

The IBP said the OP-DESLA sent a letter to the IBP dated June 9, seeking the group’s comments on the much-criticized ATB. 

The IBP sent its letter and comments to the Office of the President on June 22. 

Among the ATB’s unconstitutional provisions, according to the IBP, are Section 29, Section 34, Section 25 of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), and paragraphs (a), (b), (c) of Section 4 of the ATB. 

The IBP  said Section 29 of the ATB  was unconstitutional in so far as it gives the ATC,  an agency under the Executive Branch, the power to issue written authorization to arrest and detain. 

“The public pronouncements of the principal author of the Senate Bill clarifying that the ATC should not have the power to issue warrants of arrest or detention inasmuch as this is strictly a judicial function under the 1987 Constitution should be a compelling reason to correct the wording of Section 29 to clearly reflect the true intent of the legislature and to avoid misapplication of the law,” the IBP said.

It added that Section 29 is unconstitutional because it does not prescribe the process by which the ATC will issue the written authority to detain for 14-24 days suspected terrorists without filing a judicial charge. 

Section 18, Article VII of the Constitution, according to the IBP, allows only three days detention without charging the suspect in court even in the extreme and critical situation of invasion or rebellion and the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended.

The IBP added that in the 1987 Constitution, a judge would issue a warrant of arrest if there is “probable cause”, but Section 29 of the ATB does not require “probable cause”.

As to arguments that there are other countries that have longer periods of detention, the IBP said these countries “do not have comparable issues of abuse, trust and accountability in governance.”

It added that the fact ATB compels the arresting officer to immediately inform the judge of the nearest court, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the IBP Legal Aid Committee or the Public Attorney’s Office upon arresting a suspected terrorist would only bring “cold comfort” to the detainees since the court would only do little, not unless a charge has been filed before it.

The lawyers’ group also questioned the third and fourth paragraphs of Section 25 of the ATC that gives the council the power to “designate” a suspected terrorist upon mere probable cause and to freeze the suspect’s assets through the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

“Freezing assets is deprivation of property which cannot be done without due process. It is significant that proscription proceedings before the Court of Appeals give the suspects a chance to be heard. In contrast, designation proceedings of the ATC and the AMLC are ex parte and without any procedural safeguards or substantial safeguards,” IBP added.

On the other hand, the IBP said Section 34 of the ATB has rendered irrelevant the constitutional rights to be presumed innocent and to post bail. 

Section 34 of the ATB provides “… In cases where evidence of guilt is not strong, and the person charged is entitled to bail and is granted the same, the court upon application of the prosecutor shall limit the right of travel of the accused…he or she may also be placed under house arrest.” 

“ATB seems to allow guilt by association, a principle that is rejected in constitutional and criminal law principles. Punishing indirect incitement may be considered unwarranted prior restraint to freedom of expression,” the IBP stressed.

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