Updates on the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020

5. February 2021 | Human Rights News, Internal Affairs

Update September 2021:

The first known case in which the anti-terrorism law was applied has now been revised. Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, two members of the indigenous Aeta community in Zambales, were arrested on August 21, 2020, as they tried to evacuate from a gunfight between the military and the New Peoples Army (NPA). They were then in November 2020 charged and accused of killing a soldier. The Olongapo City Regional Trial Court dismissed the terrorism charges on July 15, 2021 and asked for their immediate release after 11 months of detention – due to lack of evidence, contradictions in the soldiers’ testimonies, and the already warrantless arrest that also invalidates the search warrants.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) President Edre Olalia continues to express dismay: “[They were] made pawns by the very state that put them in jail in the first place and whose self-righteous agents even brazenly committed unethical conduct to snatch them away from their original counsel to defuse the focus on the patent injustice on them.”  

Gurung and Ramos, who were at first still represented by NUPL lawyers, also filed a petition against the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 because of torture in military detention, but unexpectedly and presumably under pressure withdrew the very petition in February 2021, after which NUPL’s legal assistance was also suspended.

The government currently has no plans to take legal action against any soldiers involved. The chances that those responsible for the unlawful arrest and detention will be held accountable are low anyway. For example, NUPL Chair Neri Colmenares says, “Our justice system is inhospitable to the battle of impunity especially when you’re running after law enforcers.“ In this regard, human rights lawyer Algamar Latiph underscores that Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra is himself a member of the Anti-Terrorism Counsil (ATC).

Update June 2021: The 9ths and final oral hearing against the Anti-Terror Act has been conducted on May 17, not resulting in a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the law as aspired by the 37 petitioners. The Supreme Court concluded the hearings with a list of questions for government lawyers to clarify for instance the definition of terrorism, the role of the military and other legal frameworks. To name a few of those: “Is rebellion now considered a terror act? Does adhering to communism and fundamentalist Islamism make one a terrorist? How does a person who has been declared terrorist by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) contest the designation if it was done without due process?” At the same time the petitioners are asked to submit their final memoranda until maximum June 16. On May 12 during the second last oral hearing National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. red-tagged groups, including some petitioners, through his statements and a video presentation. Petitioners filed a joint motion to forbid Esperon to speak within the hearing anew, saying: “Esperon was able to engage in red-tagging before this very Court, when red-tagging was one of the grave dangers that impelled petitioners to come to this Court in the first place.” The Supreme Court granted their request for the final hearing, but also issued a show cause order to Ted Te, who is a petitioner and himself one of the Court’s counsels, after he commented critically on Twitter on the Courts non-intervention. On May 13, the ATC published the long-feared list, which names 29 individuals identified as “terrorists”. The ATC listed down 19 members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), including their founder, Jose Ma. Sison and other ranking members, under the Resolution No. 17, which allows to tag people or organizations as alleged terrorists “for the purpose of engaging in terrorism” – without evidence supporting the allegations necessary. 10 Abu Sayyaf individuals are named under the Resolution Nr. 16 “for conspiring. planning, and preparing for the commission of terrorism.” Update March 2021: After a pause due to self-quarantine of the Supreme Court the oral hearings against the Anti-Terror Act have been resumed on March 2nd, 2021. The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) stated that during these sessions there may also be a discussion about the threat of General Parlade against journalist Tetch Torres-Tupa and other petitioners, because this incident shows how dangerous the Anti-Terror Act can prove to be. On occasion of the arrest of petitioners Chad Errol Booc, a voluntary teacher, and Windel Bolinget, chair of the Cordillera People’s Alliance, the petitioners reiterated ther plea for a temporary restraining order (TRO). Booc and 25 other people were arrested in operations following the alleged rescue of Lumad-children. Lawmakers regard Booc’s arrest as against the law. Read also: Rappler: Live Updates: Supreme Court oral arguments on anti-terror law Vera Files: Lawyers seek SC intervention on attacks on colleagues, activists CNN Philippines: Major issues raised against the Anti-Terrorism Act Philstar: TRO sought anew verses Anti-Terror Law Philstar: Citing relentless red-tagging and arrests, SC urgend to temporarily anti-terror law implementation Inquirer: Some justices on quarantine Update February 2021: 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. Background: 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.

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