Critics of the Anti-Terrorism Law won what they consider only a small victory after the Supreme Court (SC) ruled last week that portions of the controversial law were illegal, and therefore null and void.

Opponents to the controversial law petitioned the SC to consider scrapping the entire law because it carried such provisions as allowing warrantless arrest.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, one of the principal sponsors of the law, said he would “respect (and) graciously accept” the high court’s decision, adding that he considered “a win for peace” Republic Act number 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020 being retained in large parts.

The high tribunal ruled that two sections of the law had to be removed, namely Sections 4 and 25, which define what actions constitute terrorism.

Terrorist acts exclude advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights. However, a qualifier states that the exemptions should not cause death or serious physical harm “or to create risk to public safety.”

This was deemed by the SC as too broad a definition, and therefore violative of freedom of expression.

Opponents of the law said the provision meant the government would decide what did or did not constitute a threat to public safety and could therefore be cited anytime to prevent or block any mass action, no matter how legitimate.

The existence of the law also meant that peace talks with the underground communist movement would grind to a halt as the government has tagged the New People’s Army, the Communist Party of the Philippines, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as terrorist organizations.

Defenders of the law such as Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana stated that fear of RA 11479 was “baseless.”

One religious organization said that the ATA was a major roadblock to peace.

The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), while welcoming the SC decision, said there remained provisions of the law that would prevent negotiations with the local communists from proceeding.

Specifically, the PEPP cited the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) which could still tag any individual as a terrorist, including persons appointed to negotiate peace with the government.

In a statement, the PEPP said that “only last June, the ATC designated the NDFP as a terrorist group and a number of its key participants in the negotiations as terrorists.”

With the decision, the PEPP added, the SC “has retained a big hurdle for a peaceful resolution to the armed conflict.”

The Philippine underground movement has been active since the 1960s, making them one of the longest running communist insurgencies in the world.

Signatories to the PEPP statement included the likes of Co-chairman Cagayan Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, Caloocan Bishop Emeritus Deogracias Iñiguez, Benedictine nun Sis. Mary John Mananzan, National Council of Churches in the Philippines Secretary Bishop Reuel Normal Marigza, Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines Rev. Rex Reyes, and PEPP Deputy Director Rev. Dr. Aldrin Penamora.

According to their statement, “As Christian leaders, we affirm that our opposition to the Anti-Terrorism Act is based on our enduring call for broader peace, a peace that addresses the root causes of dissent and armed conflict and seeks their resolution through negotiation.”

Critics of the ATA earlier questioned what they called the “undue haste” with which the law was passed by Congress on June 3, last year, which was then signed into law on July 3. The ATA took effect on July 18, 2020.

The opponents of the law said they remained thankful of the “small victory” won by human rights advocates but added that there remained portions of the ATA that were still cause for concern.

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