[Press Release] Anti-torture advocates, women and child rights groups among new petitioners vs. Anti-Terror law filed at SC -UATC

Photo by CATW-AP

Press release
September 11, 2020

Anti-torture advocates, women and child rights groups among new petitioners vs. Anti-Terror law filed at SC

Anti-torture advocates, women and child rights groups, torture survivors, families of involuntary disappearances and forensic expert filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) on Friday, 11 September, to declare the Republic Act (RA) No. 11479, also known as the Anti-Terrorism Law, unconstitutional. They collectively expressed that the Anti-Terrorism Law is reminiscent of the dictatorship of Marcos, thus choosing date for petition-filing was also a protest against moves to mark Sept. 11 as a holiday.

The petitioners belonging to the United Against Torture Coalition (UATC)-Philippines, a network composed of various human rights groups and individuals working on torture prevention in the Philippines, said that the Anti-Terror Act (ATA) directly contravenes RA 9745 or the Anti-Torture Law of 2009 that criminalizes acts of torture and ill-treatment.

In its petition for certiorari, the group argued that many of the main provisions of the ATA are contrary to the provisions of the 1987 Constitution and the anti-torture law, particularly those that value the dignity of every human person and guarantee full respect for human rights of all persons, including suspects, detainees and prisoners.

The group argued that under Section 29 of the anti-terrorism act, suspected terrorists may be detained for up to 14 days, extendible for another 10 days before they have to be charged in court- a condition that is conducive to the person detained for being tortured or coerced into involuntary confession, forcibly made to disappear or even summarily executed which the anti-torture law aims to prevent.

The petitioners have pointed out that this period is much longer than the three-day detention period allowed by the Constitution when the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended.

Cristina Sevilla, legal counsel for the petitioners underscored that the ATA provisions will violate constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms that protect civilians from torture, ill treatment and enforced or involuntary disappearance. “Warrantless arrests of designated suspects and prolonged pre-trial detention heighten the risk as shown by years of documented cases,” added Sevilla.

“Given the dismal human rights record of the Duterte government and its misogynistic acts, the implementation of the ATA will have a chilling effect to every woman, especially the most vulnerable among us such as the prostituted women who have experienced acts of torture in the hands of authorities,” said Jean Enriquez, Executive Director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women- Asia Pacific (CATW-AP) and co-petitioner.

The petitioners warned that the new ATA poses a threat to the legitimate work of human rights defenders.

Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), co-petitioner also said that the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) under Section 25 of RA 11479 provides unbridled discretion in enforcing the law. TFDP feared that the ATA will only institutionalize the government’s repressive and discriminatory measures, which is to “weaponize the law to suppress fundamental freedoms.”

One of the petitioners, Edeliza Hernandez, Executive Director of Medical Action Group (MAG), said that the ATA will undermine and even discredit the work of service providers, humanitarian workers and healthcare professionals who provide medical services and treat wounded suspects or alleged terrorists as they can be interpreted as providing “material support for terrorism.” “We must ensure everyone from ambulance drivers to doctors can work without fear of prosecution or sanction,” she added.

Benito Molino, forensic expert and one of the petitioners said that “what makes torture abhorrent is not only what it does to the victims but how the system condones and hides it.” “The new ATA will only give the authorities more room to maneuver and further circumvent other laws to escape accountability,” added Molino. He further stated that the ATA is a regressive law and will put to waste all efforts that advanced human rights in the country from the Marcosian dictatorial rule. “The ATA brings back memories of gross human rights violations of the Marcos regime,” Molino expressed.

The petitioners asserted that freedom from torture is an absolute and non-derogable right stemming from the fundamental right to life.

“While it is the duty of the Philippine government to protect its jurisdiction from the threat of terrorism, it should not be at the expense of fulfilling its mandate to promote, protect, and guarantee the exercise and enjoyment of all human rights, said co-petitioner Joy Lascano, Executive Director, Balay Rehabilitation Center, Inc.

According to Joey Faustino, Secretary General of Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND) and co-petitioner, “the ATA is also contrary to another human rights legislation, RA 10353, the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act of 2012.” “Torture and enforced disappearance are usually paired by unbridled authority,” he stressed. According to FIND, it took decades after Martial Rule and thousands of cases of enforced disappearance before RA 10353 can be enacted – with most of the victims still missing, their families left to heal by themselves from damages and economic displacement. “We need laws like this to protect our rights, not to stifle them,” Faustino added. FIND also stressed that surveillance invariably precedes enforced disappearance; inordinately long period of surveillance under the ATA will exacerbate the commission of enforced disappearances.

Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center, Inc. (CLRDC) is also among the petitioners. It opines that “authorities may crudely apply the Anti-Terror Act even to minors, in the same manner the anti-drug war was ruthlessly enforced by authorities that killed the likes of Kian and orphaned many children.”-end-

Contact person:

Edeliza Hernandez, contact no. 0949-8834814
Executive Director
Medical Action Group
UATC Secretariat Head

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