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HOWIE SEE IT: The Anniversary of Anti-Terrorism

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By Atty. Howie Calleja

This week marked one year since the filing of our petition assailing the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act – the first of 37 petitions. It has now been 12 months since a law was enacted legalizing the state-sponsored killings of tens of thousands of defenseless citizens on our streets. In the 365 days since the Anti-Terrorism Act granted the Executive branch powers inherent in the Judiciary, we’ve seen it for what it is; effectively granting the powers of judge, jury, and executioner to the Executive and dismantling the fundamental principle of checks and balances in our government.

Under the guise of public welfare, there now exists a law that legitimizes red-tagging of young activists, dissenters, and critics. How, then, can free speech exist when there is a strong fear (especially due to precedent) of being targeted, surveilled, and arrested due to one’s political views? Even without a legal education, the average person can discern that this law allows an officer to determine what actions are a “threat” to the peace – the discretion of an officer to determine what acts can be considered as terrorism gives rise to a multitude of interpretation that can be easily subjected to abuse. As I’ve said many times before: this has never been a law against terrorists, rather a law of error and terror.

On Thursday, Chief Justice Gesmundo stated to the public that the Supreme Court received the summary of arguments presented by both the petitioners and the respondents in this case, hopefully to be resolved by the end of 2021. Though it will be (at least) a year and a half before the case is totally resolved, the journey has already been tumultuous. As the first petitioner to file, and as an alternate speaker during oral arguments, I have seen this case from its infancy. Starting with in-person arguments with limited attendees to eventually moving to an online platform (due to the worsening pandemic), the 7 main speakers chosen (along with the 6 alternates, myself included) have argued gallantly on the merits of our petitions. After methodically and exhaustively discussing almost every section of the law in order to illuminate the constitutional issues, I can confidently say that this year-long effort has not been in vain. Already we have had the opportunity to illuminate the issues of the current administration, and the fear they have sparked in the hearts of every generation of Filipinos.

To strike fear in the hearts of Filipinos is not enough for the administration, it seems. They did not stop with a vague and broad definition of what, in their eyes, is a “terrorist”. Over the past year, the release of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of this law only highlighted the Executive Branch’s desperation for control. The Anti-Terrorism Council, comprised mainly of members of the Executive Department, was granted powers to promulgate rules, authorize arrests and detention, freeze assets of alleged perpetrators, and order surveillance of individuals – all of this, without a trial and without the collaboration of the judiciary. But can we be surprised? After all, due process has never been in the vocabulary of our current leaders.

The right of due process has been denied to Filipinos in every manner since 2016; from the senseless killings of alleged criminals, to the Anti-Terrorism Law, and even in the red-tagging of philanthropists like those who began community pantries. No one can deny the threat to livelihood, privacy, and liberty that the act of red-tagging by government officials has on a single Filipino but, now, with legalizing the power to publicly designate individuals as terrorists – the administration has taken one giant step further. Without the prosecution and conviction through the court of law, a Filipino can have their assets frozen, them and their family members surveilled, detained long past the limits our penal codes set, and deprived of their right to privacy – not to mention publicly shamed by society. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? These words no longer have any meaning, it seems, to our leaders.

In our submission of our summary of arguments, I hope and trust that the Supreme Court will uphold the independence of the judiciary, as it has consistently upheld the constitutional guarantees in our Bill of Rights. But, for now, we wait. Wait for the rule of law to prosper once again, and for the highest Court in the land to say, “enough.”

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