Anti-terror law petitioner says problem is on ‘lacking’ police, intelligence ops

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 2) — Instead of passing an Anti-Terrorism law that critics argue is unconstitutional, the State should have focused on improving deficient police and intelligence performance, a counsel for petitioners against the measure said on Tuesday.

On Day 4 of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on the assailed measure, petitioners’ lawyer and former Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz said the Human Security Act of 2007 — which was repealed by the new law — was enough to deter terrorism.

“If I may clarify, what is really lacking is good police work and good intelligence work,” he told Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda during an interpellation. “I think these are solely lacking in our jurisdiction.”

Cadiz also contended that the repealed 2007 law is a better one, as it enumerates predicate crimes. The Anti-Terrorism Act did away with predicate crimes and instead states a person is deemed a terrorist if he engages in acts that “intend to” cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety.

This ambiguous wording in Section 4, critics said, is a ground for the law's abolition. They claimed this vague provision could result in a chilling effect, as citizens who are unsure what exactly constitutes terrorism may simply restrain themselves from expressing their views in order to avoid being charged of the crime.

RELATED: Diokno tells SC: Only the Anti-Terrorism Act punishes based on person’s ‘state of mind

While the same section of the law states that terrorism shall not include advocacy, protest, dissent and other similar exercises of civil and political rights, the line also still carries the phrase “which are not intended to.” This supposed safeguard, Cadiz said, ultimately is not enough against potential abuse and is only “a very minor exception.”

In a separate interpellation, Former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares, another counsel for petitioners, agreed that enhanced operations by law and intelligence operatives could be a better solution than the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act. But even if the State believes a new law is needed, Colmenares said the main issue is that the Court should not allow any measure to be “of unbridled discretion, vague, and overbroad.”

READ: Here are the major issues raised against the Anti-Terrorism Act

Another lawmaker, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman who is one of the petitioners, explained to the Supreme Court that the peition against the ATL is not a political issue but rather a constitutional one. The anti-terrorism law, he said, violates the 1987 Constitution, particularly the rights provided for under the Bill of Rights.

Lagman added he was appearing as a petitioner despite having voted against the ATL when it was still a bill being discussed in the House. He said that although the majority in Congress led the approval of the bill into law, it does not mean that the ATL was constitutional.

Day 4 marked the end of the SC justices’ interpellation of petitioners. It was initially scheduled last Feb. 23 but was delayed by a week after some magistrates went on self-quarantine as a precaution against COVID-19. Solicitor General Jose Calida and the government’s lawyers are expected to defend the measure when the oral arguments resume on March 9.