'Consider the Constitution': Groups urge DOJ to recommend veto of anti-terror bill

Legal and rights groups called on Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to "consider the Constitution" and recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the contested anti-terror bill.

Guevarra confirmed to reporters on Tuesday, June 16, that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will be able to send its recommendations to Malacañang on Wednesday, June 17.

"I am confident that the President will wait for and consider not only the comments of the DOJ but also those of other government agencies whose comments were requested by the Office of the Executive Secretary," Guevarra said.

Rights group Karapatan sent a letter to Guevarra on Tuesday outlining to the justice secretary the cost of a tough red-tagging campaign by the government on activists, which is feared to get worse if the anti-terror bill is passed.

Karapatan said that under the Duterte administration, 1,000 activists and dissenters have been charged with common crimes. There are 619 activists who remain in prison spanning previous administrations. (READ: Duterte's war on dissent)

Karapatan also said that since Duterte created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in December 2018, there have been 308 executions and 439 frustrated killings of human rights workers, most of them peasant, environmental, and indigenous leaders.

Karapatan added that 245 legitimate organizations in the Philippines have been red-tagged by the government, and which have opened them up to harassment.

'Consider the Constitution'

The Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL), a consortium of the most prominent legal groups in the country, appealed to Guevarra to "consider the Constitution."

Law groups and law schools, as well as other members of the academe, have urged the government to veto the bill for unconsitutional provisions, such as authorizing the anti-terror council (ATC) to order arrests and detention of suspected terrorists without a warrant. (READ: EXPLAINER: Comparing dangers in old law and anti-terror bill)

Sponsors of the bill defend the ATC power as being similar to the 3 valid grounds of warrantless arrest, such as caught in the act, and if law enforcement has probable cause to believe someone has just committed a crime.

"This argument is misleading and pernicious to the Constitution. It is not difficult to imagine political appointees of the President in the ATC to use the authority to designate and arrest suspected terrorists for political ends and to quell dissent," the CLCL said. (READ: DOJ's precarious role in the contested anti-terror bill)

In an earlier interview, retired Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio said that the ATC's powers to arrest and detain under the current Human Security Act has a condition that a prior surveillance must have been done first.

A prior surveillance would give basis for law enforcement to say they caught a suspect in the act, or they have probable cause to believe the suspect committed a terror act.

That condition was removed in the anti-terror bill.

The anti-terror bill also added new crimes, so that more people would now be considered suspect, such as those inciting to terrorism, planning, threatening, and facilitating to commit terrorism.

In the current law, only an actual terror act and the conspiracy to commit terror act are punished.

The added crimes such as inciting to terrorism scare lawyers and rights groups that it would be used to crack down on legitimate dissent. (READ: DOJ defends terror bill's dissent exception, but leaves out 'killer' caveat)

The bill also extends the period of detention to 24 days.

"That is a violation of our right to due process and Section 18, Article VII of the Constitution which requires the release of any person who is not charged in court beyond 3 days. This is not to say that the Human Security Act is not repressive. We are saying that the new terror bill is more draconian and repressive," the CLCL said.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines has also said those provisions were unconstitutional.

DOJ review

Karapatan reminded the DOJ that it once used the Human Security Act to declare as terrorists prominent activists, including a United Nations special rapporteur, only to withdraw its own case after the list was exposed as unverified.

The current law allows for a full trial before a declaration, while the bill would allow the courts to preliminarily declare people as terrorists within 72 hours.

"We hope that your office can recommend the veto of this measure as this can potentially further constrict the democratic and civic spaces in the Philippines and can have immense impact on the rights and civil liberties of human rights defenders and citizens," said Karapatan.

Guevarra had earlier said that "we'll review the proposed anti-terrorism bill as independently and objectively as possible, with only the security of the nation and the civil and political rights of the people in mind."

But asked if they are going to publicize their recommendation, Guevarra said it would be up to Malacañang to release it since they were the ones who asked for it. (PODCAST: Law of Duterte Land: Dissecting anti-terror bill and threats to freedoms)

"We'll leave it to the Office of the Executive Secretary to decide if they would publicly disclose the basis of whatever action the President would take on the bill," Guevarra said.

Pressed if he thinks that Filipinos deserve transparency from the DOJ, Guevarra said "the decision to disclose internal communications is not ours to make." – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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