Free press and expression advocates file 13th petition vs anti-terror law

Free press and expression advocates are the 13th group to file a petition against the controversial anti-terrorism bill at the Supreme Court (SC) this morning, Thursday, July 23.

The petitioners filed for certiorari and prohibition against Republic Act No. 11479, seeking the nullification of the new measure they said violates press freedom and freedom of expression.

Filed as GR No. 252747, the petition also appeals for a temporary restraining order and writ for preliminary injunction against the measure it said is unconstitutional and void.

The petitioners said their three major oppositions with the law are:

  1. It provides vague definitions of crimes, thus violating the due process clause of the 1987 Constitution;
  2. It violates the freedoms of speech, expression, and association; and
  3. It violates the right to liberty without due process of law and the doctrine of separation of powers of the government.

National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) chairperson Neil Doloricon, former University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication deans Luis Teodoro and Roland Tolentino, journalists Ces Drilon and Inday Espina-Varona, , artists, Bart Guingona, Toym Imao and Raye Baquirin were among the petitioners. 

Several Rappler reporters led by editor Glenda Gloria joined the petition.

Atty. Evalyn Ursua is the group’s lead counsel.

In a press briefing after the filing, Ursua said their petition may be the only one so far that includes including petitioners from outside Metro Manila.

Mindanao filmmakers Gutierrez Mangansakan and Arbi Barbarona, and Cebuana artist Bambi Beltran, among others, took pains to send their notarized documents through airline waybill despite difficulties imposed by the coronavirus lockdowns.

A Concerned Artists of the Philippines member dramatizes the effects of the anti-terror law on people’s rights and freedoms.

The advocates’ petition said the measure’s Section 4 does not define the acts that it prohibits but merely focuses on the intent of the doer. It said intent, by itself, does not constitute a crime.

It added that Section 4’s vagueness is worsened by the phrase “regardless of the stage of execution” whose “vagueness” makes the crime of terrorism under the new law “an undefined act.”

It further said that the law’s Sections 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 14, which penalize various terrorism-related crimes, all refer back to Section 4’s definition of terrorism, thus suffering from the same vagueness.

“Given the vagueness of the definition of terrorism in the assailed law, its enforcement and implementation will encroach on basic rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of speech, expression, and association,” the petitioners said.

The petitioners added the law may be used by authorities to subjectively deem their works and outputs as artists, writers and journalists as among the “unspecified acts” of terrorism.

“Clearly, with the vagueness of Section 4’s definition of terrorism, the assailed law’s criminalization of terrorism and all its variants encroaches on free speech and expression in violation of the 1987 Constitution,” the petition reads.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) added the law tramples on basic rights by allowing an executive body to decide on people’s arrest and detention without warrant for up to 24 days – way beyond the 3-day limit imposed by the Constitution – and stripping the judiciary of its exclusive authority to determine whether a person should be deprived of liberty.

“It is clear that the Terror Law is anathema to democracy. For all Filipinos who cherish liberty, there can only be one response: Resistance!” the NUJP said in a statement.

The group’s filing became tensed when Manila Police District (MPD) officers threatened to arrest CAP members who were dramatizing the effects of the anti-terrorism law outside SC’s gates.

No arrests happened however after the artists finished their street play before reinforcements from MPD’s Station 5 arrived.

Other groups, such as Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Karapatan, Flee Legal Assistance Group and youth groups filed their separate petitions this morning. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

[Disclosure: The reporter is NUJP secretary general]