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Palace says up to SC to decide anti-terror law’s fate amid suits

By Bernadette D. Nicolas & Rene Acosta

MALACAÑANG on Sunday said it will leave it to the Supreme Court to decide the fate of the controversial anti-terror law, which faced legal challenges right after its signing last week.

“The Palace will leave it to the SC to decide on these petitions and [we] will abide by whatever the ruling is,” said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque in a statement.

This comes a day after a group filed electronically a petition, asking the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order and writ of preliminary injunction and/or other injunctive remedies to stop the implementation of the newly signed law.

In filing the petition, the group led by lawyer Howard Calleja questioned the constitutionality of the provisions of the new law.

The petitioners will also be filing the hard copies of the petition before the SC on Monday, July 6.

Aside from Calleja’s group, other critics have earlier said they are ready to challenge the measure before the high court and expressed concern over some provisions of the new law, including the broad definition of terrorism and a prolonged detention period for terrorism suspects for as long as 24 days without being charged in court.

Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio earlier said he will also be a petitioner, adding that allowing the Anti-Terror Council to order arrests and the prolonged detention of terrorism suspects are unconstitutional.

On Saturday, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) announced its decision to defer for now the actual filing of its petition on the anti-terror law, saying it wants to include more petitioners who expressed interest to join, retweak its
 petition in view of the supervening facts, among others.

Despite widespread opposition of various groups that the measure could be used by the government to silence its critics, President Duterte still signed the anti-terror bill into law on Friday, July 3.

Justifying the President’s move, Roque earlier said the passage of Republic Act 11479 is a sign of the administration’s serious commitment to stamp out terrorism.

With its passage, the Palace said they expect the public to be further protected from terrorist acts.

Minutes after Friday’s signing of the new law, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asian Director Phil Robertson also warned it would “push Philippine democracy into an abyss.”

The law “threatens to significantly worsen the human-rights situation in the Philippines, which has nosedived since the catastrophic ‘war on drugs’ began four years ago,” Robertson said.

Assurances

The country’s top two defense and security officials welcomed the signing into law of the anti-terrorism bill while assuring it would not be used to curtail basic rights and freedom.

At the same time, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. urged Filipinos to give Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 a chance, saying the country needs it in dealing with 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,” Lorenzana said in a statement released by the Department of National Defense on Sunday.

“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,” he added.

Lorenzana appealed to the public to give the law a chance and not be “swayed by misinformation and disinformation.”

On the other hand, Esperon encouraged critics of the law to read it thoroughly, adding those who are against it, especially those who claim that it will violate basic rights and freedom, are those who have not read it.

“They deliberately claim it because they have not read the anti-terrorism bill,” the national security adviser said.

“Dissent, advocacies, mass actions and other similar activities in exercise of civil and political rights are not included. It is there in the anti-terrorism law,” Esperon said.

Esperon, a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said they would welcome any move to challenge it before the court, still as part of the processes in the country.

“That’s their right. They can go to the Supreme Court. They could also demonstrate, that is part of the freedom of expression, but it should be peaceful, we would even protect them,” he said.

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