Mindanawons ask SC to declare Anti-Terror Act unconstitutional; law with no regard for human rights, they say, can’t defeat terrorism

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 03 August) — Five Mindanawons — a Moro leader, a human rights worker and three journalists — and an organization catering to the education of  Indigenous Peoples or Lumads on Monday filed a petition before the Supreme Court to declare RA 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020 unconstitutional, noting that “counter-terrorism with no regard for human rights cannot win the hearts and minds of the people against terrorism nor can it suppress violent extremism.”

This is the second petition filed by Mindanao-based citizens, among at least 20 petitions filed nationwide.

Moro leader Haroun Alrashid Alonto Lucman of Lanao del Sur, former Vice Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and one of the petitioners of the case filed via registered mail and e-mail on August 3, told an online press conference on Monday that the scenario he foresees if the law is not declared unconstitutional is that “extremism will elevate into a much scary level.”

Lucman, representing Bangsamoro constituents who are objecting to the law, explained that despite the succession of peace agreements between government and the Moro revolutionary forces, human rights violations committed by the state fueled violent extremism and motivated the youth to gravitate towards radical elements.

Based on accounts, he said, the original plan for the siege in 2017 was not Marawi but neighboring Iligan or Cagayan de Oro cities. With more human rights violations expected under the ATA,  Lucman expressed fears these will drive more people into violent extremism, and it  would not be farfetched, he said, for them to target Metro Manila.

The Bangsamoro Parliament on July 2 passed a resolution urging President Duterte to veto the then proposed law “to provide Congress the opportunity to review and address the issues of vagueness, overbreadth and other concerns.”

Duterte, the country’s 16th President and first Mindanawon to lead the nation, signed the bill into law on July 3.

Lucman is joined by four other individuals – Jay Apiag, chair  of  the human rights group, Karapatan Southern Mindanao;  journalists Mario Maximo Solis and Tyrone Velez of Davao City and Leonardo Vicente Corrales of Cagayan de Oro City; and Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center, Inc. whose Lumad schools were ordered closed by the Department of Education last year allegedly without due process.

The first petition against the ATA from Mindanao was filed on July 23 by lawyers Algamar Latiph, Bantuas Lucman, Musa Malayang, and Dalomilang Parahiman.

“Target the real terrorist”

In their 59-page petition, petitioners Lucman, et al,  said they are “no strangers to the cycle of violence and the ugliness of war that constantly paint this land of promise, from the string of kidnappings to the bombings in Davao, the Marawi siege and the slide back to Martial Law,”  and admit they will “greatly benefit” from government’s counter-terrorism drive to flush out terrorism in every nook and corner of the country.

But they argued that the stories and experiences of Mindanao “provide solid evidence that counter-terrorism with no regard for human rights cannot win the hearts and minds of the people against terrorism nor can it suppress violent extremism.”

“To be truly effective, government’s counter-terrorism fight should target the real terrorist;  and NOT towards Lumads and Moro people and NOT against human rights defenders, social activists and journalists whose fundamental rights are  guaranteed by no less than the Constitution,” they said.

The petitioners said it is “not a choice between fighting terrorism, on one hand, and human rights on the other hand. For as a matter of State obligation, terrorism must be fought relentlessly to protect human rights.”

The petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with Urgent Prayer for Issuance of Temporary Restraining Order and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction was filed against Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea,  the Anti-Terrorism Council represented by its chair, Medialdea, Senate President Vicente Sotto and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

Worst case scenarios

Meggie Nolasco, Executive Director of  Salugpongan, told the online presser that even before the ATA was signed into law,  they had already suffered much from the “unprecedented closure” last year of  54 Salugpongan schools for the Lumads “without due process.”

Salugpongan community school in Sitio Dulyan, Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte during the flag ceremony on 19 November 2018. Photo courtesy of Breakaway Media

She said “ayaw na lang naming i-imagine” (we do not want to imagine) how worse the human rights situation would be and what other human rights violations will be committed against the Lumads,  youth, the communities with intense militarization and “intense na oppression sa kanilang areas.”

“Naghahanda kami sa worst case scenarios” (We are preparing for worst case scenarios), Nolasco said.

If the law is not declared unconstitutional, Nolasco said, “taongbayan mag declare sa kanya na unconstitutional” (the people will declare it unconstitutional), she said.

Apiag said that on July 22, just as soon as the law was deemed to have taken effect, he was among those included in a poster displayed in several areas in the city labeling them as “terrorist recruiter.”

“In the small and lonely world of human rights defenders who are constantly harassed and persecuted, this poster calls for blood and amounts to a death warrant specifically for Jay Apiag and his co-Petitioners who are similarly situated with him,” the petition said.

Free speech, press, expression

Solis, Chief Operations Officer of Radyo ni Juan Network, said the law infringes on freedom of the press, speech and expression and criticizing government could be interpreted by authorities as inciting to terrorism, especially for the broadcast sector. He said Constitutional rights must be protected.

Radyo ni Juan, the petition said, “is a constant target of threats, harassment, and intimidation by the government and the military” and their radio stations “magnets of red-tagging,” their reporters threatened, including Loi Algarme who was included in pamphlets of alleged member sof the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army.

Flyers bearing the faces of human rights and leftist leaders and branding them as “terrorist recruiters” were posted on walls, buildings, and electic posts around Davao City on 22 July 2020. Photo courtesy of Jay Apiag

Velez, a columnist of Sun.Star Davao said the voices of Mindanawons against this “draconian measure” must be heard, especially since history has shown that civilians suffer the brunt of the government’s anti-terror campaigns, citing as examples the many cases of Moro residents arbitrarily arrested and detained and charged with cases that later get dismissed.

Velez’ critical opinion pieces have earned him the wrath of Facebook users “who appear to be pro-government supporters” who share his column pieces “with comments and accusation that Velez is advancing the communist revolution.”

“This online red-tagging against Velez effectively intimidated, harassed and actually endangered his life and  the  safety of his own family,” the petition said.

The petition said Corrales, a member of the editorial board of  Gold Star Daily in Cagayan de Oro and a member of the  National Union of Journalist in the Philippines, is “currently  experiencing the worst form of red-tagging by state security forces in Cagayan de Oro City who earlier issued pamphlets and flyers exposing a list of names, which include the name of Corrales as one of those CPP/NDF/NPA members who are plotting against the government.”  Lately, it added, Corrales’ wife and son were also accused as communists, “thus subjecting the entire Corrales family to a harrowing intimidation given the pattern of summary killings committed  against those who are tagged as communists and terrorists.”

Corrales also received direct threat and “was informed that there is already a bounty of one million pesos for his head.”

Sections 4, 9 and 29

Lawyer Manuel Quibod, Dean of the College of Law of the Ateneo de Davao University and a member of the legal panel for the petitioners said they are questioning the constitutionality of Sections 4, 9 and 29 of the law.

Quibod said the definition of terrorism in Section 4 violates due process, is vague, overbroad and can even include anyone who criticizes government; Section 9 on inciting to terrorism “violates our freedom of speech, press, expression guaranteed by the Constitution,” and the Anti-Terrorism Council is “super powerful kaaayo” as it would determine and designate who are terrorists, has the power to issue written orders for arrest and detention,  powers that the Constitution gave to the judicial branch of government.

The legal team is composed of the Ateneo Legal Services Office, Ateneo Public Interest and Legal Advocacy Center (APILA), Free Legal Assistance Group-Southern Mindanao, Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao and Cagayan de Oro-based Balaod-Mindanao.

Observing health protocols such as wearing masks and social distancing, Davao City-based lawyers assisting Mindanawon petitioners asking the Supreme Court to declare the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 as unconstitutional, show copies of the petition filed before the Supreme Court via registered mail and e-mail on Monday, August 3, 2020. (L to R): Arvin Dexter Lopoz, Romeo Cabarde, Jr., Manuel Quibod, Danilo Balucos, Mary Ann Arnado and Joel Mahinay, and Jay Apiag of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao, one of the petitioners. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

With Quibod in the legal team are Romeo Cabarde of APILA,  Joel Mahinay of the Free Legal Assistance Group;  Arvin Dexter Lopoz, Danilo Balucos and Gloecelito Jayma of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao; Mary Ann Arnado of  the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus, and Carlomagno Calingin and Perfecto Justino Mendoza of Balaod Mindanao.

Lopoz said the petition shows “how difficult life has been for our petitioners,” even before the anti-terror law was passed.

Arnado said another group from Mindanao is also filing a petition before the Supreme Court also seeking that the law be declared unconstitutional.

She said there are provisions in the law that even for law students are “very, very clear dili gyud mupasa” (won’t pass) the test of constitutionality , particularly the power of the Anti-Terrorism Council to issue written orders of arrest. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)