DOJ says persons, groups wrongly tagged as terrorists can turn to courts

MANILA, Oct 21 (Mabuhay) — The Department of Justice (DOJ) said Tuesday that people and groups who will be “improperly” labelled as terrorists under the Philippines’ new anti-terrorism law may seek redress from the courts.

“As far as I’m concerned, as far as the Department of Justice… and the Anti-Terrorism Council is concerned, if your acts do not fall within any of those (terrorism) definitions, whatever your (political) color is, I think you should have no problem,” Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay said.

“If you are tagged accordingly, improvidently, improperly, well of course we always test these things in court, and I think you’ll always have judicial redress. That’s always going to be available to you,” he said.

He added that those wrongly tagged may ask to be delisted.

Under Rule 6.9 of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, those “designated” as terrorists may request to be delisted before the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) on the following grounds:

  • mistaken identity;
  • relevant and significant change of facts or circumstance;
  • newly discovered evidence
  • death of a designated person;
  • dissolution or liquidation of designated organizations, associations, or groups of persons; or
  • any other circumstance which would show that the basis for designation no longer exists.

When a person or group is designated by the ATC as a terrorist, the Anti-Money Laundering Council has the power to freeze their assets. Designation is different from proscription, which is the declaration by the Court of Appeals that one is a terrorist.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra is a member of the ATC. The council is chaired by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea with National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr, as vice chair.

Several groups have questioned the powers of the ATC, claiming some of the authority it has encroaches on what should be the exclusive functions of the courts, such as ordering arrests.

Under the law, suspected terrorists may be arrested through the written authority of the ATC, without a court-issued warrant, and be detained for up to 24 days before being charged in court.

The IRR clarifies that the ATC will issue the written authority after law enforcement or military personnel submit a sworn statement containing the details of the suspected terrorist and the basis for arresting them.

But arrests could be made even without the written authority, according to the IRR. In this case, the arresting officer should bring the arrested person before a judge within the periods set under Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code. If the officer is able to secure the written authority before this period lapses, the period under the anti-terrorism law applies.

“It is like giving the police a blank check where they can list any person they choose to arrest,” said the Public Interest Law Center, a critic of the anti-terrorism law.

“That the written authorization can be obtained after the arrest, as the IRR provides, reveals its irrelevance and that it is merely meant to deceive the public,” the PILC said.

The PILC, as well as other lawyers groups including the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, urged the Supreme Court to act on the 37 petitions challenging the anti-terrorism law.

“Every day that passes with this law in place is a day spent in terror and unjustness,” the PILC said in a statement.  (MNS)

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