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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Philippines court says anti-terrorism law partly unconstitutional.
MANILA: The Philippines’ Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that parts of the country’s controversial anti-terrorism law were unconstitutional, saying its section linked to protests and activism was too broad and violated freedom of expression.
The Anti-Terrorism Act, which came into force in July 2020, has been one of the most contested laws in the country due to its vague and broad definition of terrorism, which human rights defenders say creates an environment prone to abuses.
Civil society groups, lawyers, academics and individuals have filed 37 petitions challenging the law, which the Supreme Court deliberated on earlier this week.
One of the controversial parts of the law is Section 4, which says that a protest, advocacy or dissent could be considered terrorism if the activities are intended to cause death, endanger a person’s life, cause them physical harm or create a serious risk to public safety.
The court said in a notification issued on Thursday that the section “is declared as unconstitutional for being overboard and violative of freedom of expression.”
Supreme Court justices also declared as unconstitutional a part of Section 25, which allows the Anti-Terrorism Council to adopt requests by other entities, including international organizations, to designate individuals and groups as terrorists.
Other parts of the law — some also challenged by petitioners — were declared by the court as “not unconstitutional,” in what Senator Panfilo Lacson, the main author of the act, welcomed, saying that “peace won.”
“What the petitioners really wanted was for the law to be declared as unconstitutional,” Lacson, who is running in next year’s presidential election, told reporters. “There was a long debate but by and large, peace won.”
President Rodrigo Duterte’s national security adviser, Hermogenes Esperon, said at a press conference that he was happy about the decision.
“I’m happy that it is out,” he said. “The law was not declared unconstitutional, but some portions, two portions, which is OK.”
The petitioners welcomed the ruling as a partial victory.
Far Eastern University Institute of Law professors said that the court’s ruling “guarantees the protection to the people’s continued exercise of free speech, expression, and assembly, including academic freedom, especially in voicing dissent against government shortcomings and excesses.”
They added, however, that Section 29 of the law, which allows legal warrantless arrest and 24-day detention, should also be struck down.
“The threat of arrest without a judicial warrant and prolonged detention would be more than chilling enough to stifle, suppress, if not totally snuff out, any fire, flame, or even flicker, of indignation or protest against government corruption, oppression, and abuse,” the law professors said in a statement.
Renato Reyes, secretary-general of BAYAN, an alliance of left-wing Philippine organizations, said in a statement that the main win from the Supreme Court’s decision was that “activism is not terrorism.”
“This is a partial victory for petitioners as protests and advocacy are not acts of terror,” he said. “But the dangerous provisions of the law remain and can still be abused.”
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