Supreme Court strikes down two parts of Anti-Terrorism Act

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 9)— The Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional two portions of the highly contested Anti-Terrorism Law, leaving most of it untouched, it said in a statement on Thursday.

Voting 12-3 in an en banc session on Dec. 7, the justices struck down a part of Section 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Law for "being overbroad and violative of freedom of expression."

It specifically referred to the part that an action linked to a protest, advocacy, or dissent could be considered terrorism if it is intended to cause death or physical harm to a person, to endanger a person's life, or to create a serious risk to public safety.

The Supreme Court justices also declared the second part of Section 25 as unconstitutional by a vote of 9-6. It refers to the line "request for designations by other jurisdictions or supranational jurisdictions may be adopted by the ATC (Anti-Terrorism Council) after determination that the proposed designee meets the criteria for designation of UNSCR (United Nations Security Council Resolutions) NO. 1373."

Law mostly intact

Aside from the two, all other portions challenged by the petitioners were upheld.

The warrantless arrest and 24-day detention are still enforceable.

Under the law, suspected terrorists can be detained for up to 24 days even without charges as long as the law enforcement agent or military personnel are authorized in writing by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) — which is composed of Cabinet officials.

Surveillance of proscribed, designated, and suspected terrorists could also last up to 90 days under the law signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2020, compared to the 60 day-period in the repealed Human Security Act of 2007.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, a member of the ATC, said the portions declared as unconstitutional are "minimal."

"It won't affect at all the (Anti-Terrorism Act)," Año said in a message to reporters. "We'll make appropriate adjustments but [we'll] strictly implement [the] Anti Terrorism Law."

Palace won't comment yet

Malacañang kept mum on the ruling, saying it will wait for a copy of the high court's decision.

"Upon receipt of the decision, the Office of the Executive Secretary will study the ruling and, in consultation with the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), thereafter consider the next course of action," acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said.

The OSG, for its part, said it was "elated" about the SC's move.

"This affirmation is, indeed, a recognition of the Philippines' paramount need for a dynamic law that will defend our citizens against the baleful impacts of terrorism," it said in a statement.

After several oral arguments, the magistrates deliberated and ruled on the controversial law on Tuesday, but the details were released on Thursday after a thorough review of the votes cast by the justices. The full decision and separate opinions have yet to be released.

Thirty-seven petitions have been filed challenging the constitutionality of the anti-terrorism law, which critics have labeled as "vague" and may be open to abuse and human rights violations.

Several government officials have repeatedly dismissed these claims, saying there are enough safeguards in place to protect the rights of citizens.

CNN Philippines senior correspondent Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.