Terrorist-tagging 'victims' ask Supreme Court to junk anti-terrorism law

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 18) — Three Muslims who claim to be wrongfully detained on terrorist charges are now calling on the Supreme Court to junk the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act, which they said removed the safeguards they relied on to defend their case.

Main Mohammad, a Muslim leader from Zamboanga City, said he was arrested in 2017 and charged for being a member of the Abu Sayyaf group. He spent nearly two years in jail until the court dismissed his case.

Nazr Dilangalen, an engineer from the Cotabato City’s engineering office, shared the same fate. Police arrested him without a warrant saying he was a key recruiter of the Maute group, the local terrorists behind the Marawi siege. He was detained for almost two years until the court acquitted him for lack of evidence.

Jimmy Bla said he was also “randomly tagged” by authorities as an Abu Sayyaf member. He was arrested from his home in Zamboanga City in 2018 and is currently detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City while his trial is ongoing.

"Petitioners Mohammad, Bla, and Dilangalen are but three of the many Muslims who have been tagged, detained and charged as ASG members, not by reason of credible evidence, but because solely of their religion,” read the 80-page petition filed at the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

“[T]he Anti-Terrorism Act has removed the protections that the petitioners relied on in their defense against the indiscriminate apprehensions and unfounded criminal prosecutions made against them,” the petition states.

Also among the petitioners are lawyers who give legal aid to victims of red-tagging, and the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, which has been linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing New People’s Army. President Rodrigo Duterte has said the CPP-NPA should be considered as terrorists since he "declared them to be one," but officials clarified that the proscription should be approved by the Court of Appeals.

Petitioners said Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 should be declared unconstitutional for expanding the mandate of the Anti-Terrorism Council, encroaching on judicial power.

The Anti-Terrorism Council, an executive body composed of presidential appointees, can designate individuals or organizations as terrorists, prompting the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze their assets.

“The ATC’s power to issue freeze orders, without need of a court order, constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure, and encroaches on the power of the judiciary,” the petitioners said.

Lawmakers who authored and sponsored the measure said the arrest and surveillance of suspected terrorists would need a court order. However, the highly contested Section 29 allows all law enforcement agents and military personnel authorized by the council to arrest suspected terrorists without warrant and detain them without charges for up to 24 days.

Petitioners said this violates the three-day period prescribed in the Constitution for pre-trial detention.

All these powers are granted to the Anti-Terrorism Council by overly board provisions that contain “no standard or criteria to guide it in deciding on a request for designation,” petitioners said.

The Anti-Terrorism Act, signed into law on July 3, has not been fully enforced as officials admit it would be “open to question” without the implementing rules and regulations. It is now the most challenged law at the Supreme Court, with at least 28 petitions seeking to void it and stop its implementation.

The Supreme Court targets to hold oral arguments, where justices will hear the side of the government and the petitioners, on the third week of September.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.