With Supreme Court decision, contested parts of anti-terrorism law remain

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The Supreme Court has struck down two parts of the anti-terrorism law. CNN Philippines takes a look at the other contested portions which will remain in effect. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 9)— The Supreme Court has finally arrived at a much-anticipated decision on the anti-terrorism law — with the justices voting to strike down two parts of the highly-contested measure but upholding the rest of its provisions.

In a 12-3 vote on Dec. 7, the high court declared as unconstitutional a portion of Section 4 of the Republic Act No. 11479.

This specifically refers to the qualifier that could tag protest or dissent as terrorism if it is intended to cause harm or create a serious risk to public safety. The court ruled this was “overbroad” and violates freedom of expression.

The magistrates likewise voided by a vote of 9-6 the second method of designating terrorists. This refers to the requests of other countries to designate terrorists — which may be adopted by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC).

All other portions challenged by petitioners were upheld, SC noted.

CNN Philippines breaks down the other key issues raised against the anti-terrorism law which would remain in effect — as rights advocates continue their calls to scrap the measure.

‘Ambiguous definition’

Petitioners have highlighted the “ambiguous” definition of terrorism under the law, which took effect in July 2020.

Unlike the Human Security Act of 2007 which it repealed, the anti-terrorism law does not mention a predicate crime before an act is considered terrorism.

Under Section 4, which primarily remains intact, a person commits terrorism when engaging in acts that intend to endanger someone or to damage public or private property, among others.

Critics said citizens can be left second-guessing whether their actions could be considered as terrorism.

Warrantless arrest, 24-day detention

One of the most decried portions of the anti-terrorism law is Section 29, which allows warrantless arrest and detention without charges for up to 24 days.

The Human Security Act previously allowed a pre-trial detention of up to three days only.

Law enforcement officials earlier said extending the detention period would allow them to build up cases, but petitioners have warned it could lead to abuses and rights violations.

Council’s power to designate terrorists, freezing of assets

Composed of Cabinet members, the ATC can designate individuals and organizations as terrorists without any hearing, as long as it sees “probable cause” that they commit, attempt to commit, or are part of a conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism.

The ATC can also publish the list of “terrorists” online and in a national broadsheet. The tagged parties may file a verified request for delisting before the council within 15 days upon publication.

This rule drew flak from netizens and rights groups, which called out the measure over the lack of due process.

The Anti-Money Laundering Council is also permitted to freeze the assets of those designated as terrorists — a move critics said would violate a person’s right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

More surveillance powers

The anti-terrorism law gives more surveillance powers to government forces. Surveillance of proscribed, designated, and suspected terrorists could last up to 90 days under the measure, compared to the 60 day-period in the Human Security Act.

Petitioners have argued that this violates various rights including due process, privacy of communication and correspondence, and freedom of speech and expression.

Restrictions on travel

Section 34 of the anti-terrorism law — which limits an accused’s movement within the city or municipality where he resides — was also questioned for violating a person’s right to travel.

This section likewise allows house arrest, upon order of the court.

Fight continues

A total of 37 petitions were filed in hopes of challenging the constitutionality of the anti-terrorism law. But government officials have repeatedly defended the measure, citing how there are enough safeguards in place to protect citizens' rights.

Some of the petitioners said they will still challenge the court’s ruling, as the law continues to enforce “repressive” provisions.

The full decision on the case yet to be released.

CNN Philippines' Alyssa Rola, Anjo Alimario, and Eimor Santos contributed to this report.