MANILA – Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo on Sunday accused the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) of using its religious influence to pressure the Supreme Court to decide against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
Panelo made this statement after the CBCP, in a letter, expressed support for petitions questioning the controversial law, especially the manner by which it was “fast-tracked” in Congress while Filipinos were grappling with the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
He, however, said CBCP appeared to have violated the doctrine of the separation of the church and state as mandated by the 1987 Constitution.
“Such advocacy, coupled with its call to its faithful followers to prayer, effectively exerts religious influence or pressure on Supreme Court to decide against a national law designed to combat the global crime of terrorism and to secure the safety of the Filipino people,” he said in a statement.
Even if it did not violate the Constitution, he explained that it echoes the false narrative of critics and detractors who claim that it sends a “chilling effect” on those exercising freedom of speech.
He said all petitions challenging the constitutionality of the law should be dismissed “for utter lack of merit on procedural and substantive grounds.”
“The law has been passed weeks ago and there have been no signs of any ‘chilling effect’ on those who wish to publicly air their grievances against the government. In fact, the voices of dissent are in wild reckless abandon,” he said.
According to Panelo, the law gives a clear definition of the crime of terrorism, which leaves no room for misinterpretation.
Panelo agreed with the CBCP that “it is one thing to be actually involved in a crime and another thing to be merely suspected or accused of committing a crime.”
He also said that it contains safeguards protective of the basic liberties of those arrested and detained, as well as deterrents against possible abuses by law enforcement agents.
Meanwhile, he said CBCP should learn to “trust” the country’s judicial system instead of adopting an opposite mindset which undermines the legal institutions.
“For its education, we have been in a far worse situation for years due to the favorable treatment which people in power or of influence have been receiving from past governments. The present dispensation has taken us out of this environment through the President’s political will in enforcing the law equally to all, bar none, including those managed in the past to be immune therefrom or untouchable,” he said.
He said the citizenry who have witnessed the destruction of lives and properties wrought by terrorism have welcomed the instrument’s passage into law.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed the law on July 3 to repeal the Human Security Act of 2007.
Under the law, suspected terrorists can be detained up to 24 days without the filing of any charges.
The law stated that acts intended to cause death or serious injury to any person, extensive damage to a government facility, and extensive interference with destruction to critical infrastructure are likewise considered as terror acts.
It also states that individuals who either use weapons, explosives and chemical weapons or release dangerous substances causing fire, floods, or explosions are considered terrorists.
At least 10 petitions have been filed against the anti-terrorism law before the high court. (PNA)