FEU law dean sounds alarm on Anti Terror Law

SEVERAL provisions of the Anti-Terror Law are “unclear,” allowing authorities to arrest anyone suspected of being a terrorist, a law expert said.

Melencio ‘Mel’ Sta. Maria Jr., dean of the Far Eastern University Institute of Law, said that the law’s provision of detaining someone on mere suspicion is a threat to citizens who wish to express dissent.

“This law is really dangerous for the Filipino people,” he said during a webinar that tackled “Mass Media and the Law.”

“Government and law enforcers shall have a heyday using their own boundless imagination in arresting every person,” Sta. Maria warned. “Whatever their minds could conjure, will be their law. Arbitrariness and capriciousness will be the order of the day. The rule of the law will be eroded; the signs are portentous.”

The law dean noted that one of the controversial issues in the law was the use of the word ‘suspicion.’

The Anti-Terror law or Republic Act 11479 was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in July this year. Several petitions questioning the law had been filed before the Supreme Court.

“Ang iba malabo, pero (some provisions are unclear but) there is one very clear usage of a word – suspicion,” Sta. Maria said.

“Is the government weaponizing the law against media?” he asked during the webinar presented by the Philippine Bar Association (PBA).

Sta. Maria said the word ‘suspicion’ was mentioned several times.

“Suspected of committing a crime was repeated not once, not twice, not thrice but eight times in the law. Kung sunod-sunod na ginamit ‘yung phrase na ‘yun, alam natin hindi aksidente ‘yun. Sinadya ‘yun (that phrase was repeated not by accident. It was intentional,” he added.

“Therefore, suspicion must mean in a literal sense, nasuspetsahan lang (under suspicion). I studied that law, and that law is really dangerous for the Filipino people,” he said.

Sta. Maria also decried the provision in Section 29 which gives military or police personnel the power to put under custody people suspected of having violated Section 4 up to Section 12 of the law.

Section 4 defines terrorism as “engaging in acts intended to cause death or injury, damage to property, or using weapons or dangerous substances to intimidate the public or create an atmosphere of fear.”

Sta. Maria said that under the law, the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) decides who are considered as terrorists.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo however maintained that Section 29 had been misinterpreted.

“If a police officer or military person suspects someone to be involved in terrorism, what they will do is to ask permission from ATC to file an action with the Court of Appeals,” said Panelo, one of the panelists in the webinar.

Others who attended the discussion were Lyceum of the Philippines College of Law Dean Ma. Soledad Margarita Deriquito-Mawis, LPU professor Carlo Cruz, and PBA vice president Rico Domingo.

The PBA partnered with the Harvard Law School Alumni Association of the Philippines and LPU College of Law in the webinar.

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