By Atty. Howie Calleja
The release of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Anti-Terrorism Act confirmed our worst fears. Though we knew the IRR would be oppressive, given the fact that the law it is based on is patently unconstitutional, it set a new bar for scare tactics. Most particularly, the brand new practice of publicly publishing names -without any prior notification or judicial review- of those designated as “terrorists”. This single provision, though not the lone one, brings the cause of concern to anyone who has ever disagreed with the leadership.
To start, the request for delisting comes before the very body that listed the name in the first place, and not the court. What is the rationale in ignoring the constitutional mandate of check and balance in the government by only giving the power of reversal to the very group that made the decision? There has yet to be an admittance of fault from the executive branch, why would it start from the members of the Anti-Terrorism Council? For reference, other crimes have proper judicial remedies: if you seek a reversal of the prosecutor’s resolution of probable cause, the review is in the Department of Justice, while the appellate court stands as a body to reverse the decisions of RTC judges. Another stark contrast? Judges can be administratively, and even criminally liable if they knowingly render an unjust decision. On the other hand, the Anti-Terrorism Council is allowed to wipe their hands clean and be free of any liability in instances of any grave abuse of discretion, misappreciation of facts, or negligence.
Never mind the fact that just by publication, even with the opportunity to request for delisting, certain rights, including travel and the freezing of accounts, are already stripped of suspected “terrorists” without so much as the opportunity to be heard. Due process has been optional since 2016, but now we’ve reversed the basic principle of our society of rule of law; instead of innocent until proven guilty, we’ve gone to guilty until proven innocent. What’s worse is that this new rule is not even one passed by our esteemed legislators. The DOJ, in enacting the IRR, acted beyond its authority by expanding the law to include the publication of names before any sort of trial or response by the accused. This legitimization of red-tagging, and the public shame and stigma, is a new measure adopted that goes beyond the scope of authority of the agency and is, thus, an invalid delegation of power.
Most importantly, if individual liberties are now being viewed as optional, we need to -at the very least- take a step back and recognize that no one deserves to be fearful of their life. The very act of publicly posting names of suspected terrorists, without any need to produce evidence on the basis of the suspicion, opens up these names for a public trial. This fear is not unfounded, in fact, it is one that has been consistently proven. No one is safe from the fear-mongering and red-tagging that is prevalent in every corner of the administration. To want more for the country, and to attempt to further individual advocacies, is now considered militant. And this is where the danger truly lies.
Doctors are called revolutionaries, beauty queens are given warnings about supporting women organizations, and celebrities are tagged as being on the verge of communism. The recent statements from General Parlade towards Catriona Gray and Liza Soberano can only be construed as a threat. Lest they disassociate from a women advocacy group, they could have the same fate as an activist who died as a result of a government raiding? How could that be misinterpreted as anything other than trying to give these women a reason to be fearful of assisting a vulnerable sector? Apparently helping the poor and the oppressed is now worthy of issuing threats, would it also make you worthy of being listed under the IRR? If these groups are “suspected terrorists”? Who knew it was a crime to stand up for the rights of women and children? Last I checked, GABRIELA is a legitimate political organization that has won seats in the House of Representatives multiple times. There is nothing wrong with supporting this Partylist and especially nothing wrong with supporting their forums and various advocacies. Throwing around baseless accusations at strong women who use their voice for a purpose only makes it harder for one to hide his misogyny. The voice of Liza Soberano, Catriona Gray, and even Angel Locsin reverberate for the entire country to hear. They, along with the legal community, cannot be cowered into silence. It is our duty to not only ensure that these women are allowed to use their voice and free speech but every single Filipino as well.
When the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances is viewed as a privilege and any attempts to voice concerns are dismissed as anti-government, can we really call ourselves a democracy? When did discipline start outweighing the need to uphold individual freedoms? Legitimizing a monolithic viewpoint is a dictatorship, there is no dodging words. This law, and its accompanying IRR, is not an issue on whether our rights will be infringed on – it’s that the infringement is now sanctioned. We cannot tell what will happen if this law is fully implemented. We could play a sick game of “will they, won’t they” abuse the power, but the fact is that the issue is not whether this regime is abusive, it’s that the law itself is. No matter who is next in power, the Filipino people should never be at their mercy.
Whatever your feelings are on the current administration – if you place your trust in the leadership, or if those days of trust are long gone – our constitutional rights should never be gambled. They must be safeguarded to ensure there is no room for mistake or misinterpretation today, tomorrow, or throughout the next transition of power.