Upholding the Anti-Terror Act
The contending parties are claiming some victory, but the bigger winner in the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2022 is clearly the government.
While Malacañang initially said it might appeal the two provisions struck down by the Supreme Court, there are indications that it can live with the SC ruling, and merely tweak the implementing rules and regulations for Republic Act 11479 to conform with the decision.
The petitioners are reportedly considering a motion for reconsideration, although the SC voting was not a close one and a reversal might be difficult under the current composition of the court. The SC had previously also thumbed down a petition for a restraining order on the law pending resolution of the challenges to its constitutionality.
Although the SC, in its ruling, excluded mass protests and political dissent from the definition of terrorism, and struck down the designation of terrorists based on requests from foreign agencies or bodies, the petitioners maintain their argument that many other provisions in RA 11479 violate the Constitution. Lawyers say the SC ruling can still be revisited and the constitutionality challenged anew if the law is applied against a person who maintains innocence of any terrorist-related offense.
Human rights advocates can also lobby the next Congress for amendments to the law or even its repeal. Obviously, the success of this initiative will depend on the composition of the next Congress.
In the meantime, the government must allay the biggest fear of the petitioners, which is the abuse of the law to trample on human rights. The fear is driven by the killings and other abuses in the brutal war on wars waged by the Duterte administration, as well as other abuses even in enforcing compliance with pandemic health protocols.
Proponents of RA 11479 have invoked the presumption of regularity in carrying out tasks meant to protect the public from terrorist attacks. While opponents of RA 11479 ponder their next move, the best way to allay concerns about the law is to ensure that no abuses will mar its implementation, and that its main objective is to keep the public safe.