On Tuesday February 2, 2021, the first session of the oral hearing at the Supreme Court against the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 was held through seven opening statements by representatives of the 37 petitioners. The session began at 2pm and ended at 5.30pm. Lian Buan of Rappler commented, that this is quite unusual as hearings at the Supreme Court can easily last until 7pm, but this hearing with regard to the Anti-Terror Act ended already in the afternoon. A second session, where Jose Calida, the Solicitor General of the Philippines will be heard, is scheduled for February 9, 2021 at 2 pm.
On Tuesday February 2, the two torture victims, Aeta men Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, who represent the first case in which the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 was applied, submitted a pleading to join the 37 petitions seeking to void the law. On Thursday January 3, Inquirers reporter and member of the Justice and Court Reporters Association (JUCRA) Tech Torres-Tupas, who reported on the oral hearings and the case of Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos was red-tagged right away by Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. via Social Media.
Important points made by the representatives of the petitioners concerned the criminalization of the “state of mind” through the law, by criminalizing already the mere “intent” to harm in the new Anti-Terror Law. By international standards, there would have to be an actual crime committed at first and then the intent of the crime would be analyzed to categorize the crime and the perpetrator. Further concerns put forward regarded the broad powers to conduct surveillance by the law and the executives arrest and detention powers and the freedom of expression.
The so-called Anti-Terrorism Bill was signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte on July 3, 2020. It includes a definition of terrorism, which is criticized by lawyers and human rights organizations as overly broad and vague. So far, 37 suits against the law are pending at the Supreme Court. Concerns are that the Philippine jurisdiction might not act effectively in order to protect individuals from human rights violations. United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet also expressed concerns “about the blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism”. Part of the new law is the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) which has the mandate to designate individuals and organizations as “terrorists”. This is problematic as the ATC is not independent, it consists of members of the Government and the administration. Those designated as “terrorists” can be arrested without a judicial warrant and detained without charge for up to 24 days before they must be presented before a judicial authority. Most recent reason for concern is also the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) which was published on October 17, 2020 and includes under Rule 6.5 the announcement that a list of individuals and organizations designated as “terrorists” by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), which will be published in a national newspaper as well as online. Under Rule 6.9 Individuals on the list will be given 15 days to file a request for delisting. Philippine human rights organizations expect it to be published anytime soon in the upcoming weeks and to contain about 300 individuals and organizations. With regard to the severely life-threatening and recently broadly applied practice of red-tagging, this would be a crackdown on the safety of those named on the list. It is also expected that Bank accounts of the designated “terrorists” will be frozen without Anti Money Laundering Council (AMLC) probe or court order, which severely hampers their civil and social work.