Philippine lawyer groups and a top congressman asked the Supreme Court earlier in the day to strike down the president’s controversial new anti-terrorism law, or parts of it, calling it unconstitutional for infringing on civil liberties.
Three petitions filed by minority lawmaker Edcel Lagman and two lawyer groups, also sought a temporary restraining order against the use of the law, which President Rodrigo Duterte signed last Friday having fast-tracked it through the legislature.
Local and international human rights groups said that while the Philippines does have clear security threats, the legislation could be abused to target administration opponents, with a presidentially appointed anti-terrorism council able to designate who is a suspected “terrorist”.
A protester wearing a surgical mask for protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), attends a rally against the anti-terror bill that was approved by President Rodrigo Duterte the day before, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines. Image credit REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
It grants security forces sweeping powers to go after targets, some without judicial approval, and allows for 90 days of surveillance and wiretaps and the arrest and detention of suspects without warrant or charge for up to 24 days.
Legal experts warn its overly broad articles will allow discriminatory enforcement, privacy infringements and suppression of peaceful dissent.
“It was crafted in imprecise and vague language so much so that there is no certitude as to what acts the law proscribes,” Lagman said in his petition.
That, he said, leaves people “perplexed on what to avoid doing, even as its vagueness is conducive to conflicting interpretations and arbitrary enforcement.”
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Image credit Reuters
But Senator Panfilo Lacson defended the bill he co-authored, telling DZBB radio: “It is a good law, swift, effective and constitutional”.
Critics accuse Duterte of squashing debate and rushing the bill’s passage while the country was distracted by a coronavirus outbreak. He has said little publicly about it.
More court petitions were expected against what activists have condemned as a weapon to target his opponents, stifle free speech and intensify a climate of fear under Duterte.
His spokesman Harry Roque said today that the Supreme Court’s decision would be respected.