Philippines: SC Justice Speaks on The Anti-Terrorism Law

May. 10, 2007

MANILA — Another Supreme Court magistrate has joined the public discussion on terrorism.

Supreme Court Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez recently described the Human Security Act of 2007, otherwise known as The Philippine Anti-Terrorism Law, as a novel and complex law and unchartered waters only a few have sailed.

Speaking during the launching of Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr.s book The Making of the Human Security Act of 2007 held at the Philippine Normal University (PNU) in Taft Avenue, Manila, Justice Gutierrez thus said she was impressed by the amendments introduced into the law by Senator Pimentel, whom she described as an outstanding legislator [with] a strong commitment to the rule of law and the constitutional rights of the Filipino people.

Among the Pimentel amendments in the law is the exempting in Section 7 from surveillance, interception, or recording of four types of communications: communications between lawyers and clients, communications between doctors and patients, information exchanged between journalists and their sources, and confidential business correspondences; in Section 8, by requiring the existence of probable cause before judicial authorization to conduct surveillance, interception, or recording may be granted; in Section 10, by shortening the period required for the filing of the case against the violator of the law from 60 days to 30 days to prevent protracted harassment; in Section 14, by securing the right of the person under surveillance to be notified of the proceedings against him; and in Section 18, by decreasing the number of days of detention without a judicial warrant from five days to three days.

Justice Gutierrez added that it is significant that an accurate perspective of the condition of the time when the law was crafted be factored in in its implementation.

By knowing the condition of the time, we learn to dissect the motivations, perils, and factors involved in the enactment of the law. To whom and to what acts is the law directed? To the terrorists or to the dissenters? To terrorism or to rebellion? Is the law a potent tool to fight terrorism or to curtail fundamental freedom? These are only some of the questions we must ponder on carefully, the High Court magistrate stressed.

Justice Gutierrez lauded Senator Pimentels ability to substantiate his observation that the anti-terrorism law was passed in an environment of instability and hastiness. She said the lawmaker, through his prologue in the book, was able to disabuse the readers minds that the anti-terrorism law alone will secure the people from terror attacks by mentioning the sad experiences of other countries that have tough anti-terrorism laws.

A staunch advocate of liberty, Justice Gutierrez is the ponente in David vs. Arroyo on Presidential Proclamation 1017, declaring a state of national emergency. In her ponencia, she wrote, Once again the Court is faced with an age-old but persistently modern problem: How does the Constitution of a free people combine the degree of liberty, without which, law becomes tyranny, with the degree of law, without which, liberty becomes a license?

It may be recalled that earlier, Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno spoke against a mindless war against terrorism. He said that threats to national security and human rights will be aggravated if we have a state weakened internally by a government hobbled by corruption, struggling with credibility, battling the endless insurgence, and weakened externally by pressure exerted by creditor countries that control our trade and supply our military and police armaments. A weak state cannot fully protect the rights of its citizens within its borders, just as a state without economic independence cannot protect the rights of its citizens who are abroad from the exploitation of more powerful countries, he added.
The book launching was also attended by Supreme Court Justices Leonardo A. Quisumbing and Dante O. Tinga, Court of Appeals Justices Regalado Maambong and Magdangal de Leon, Senate President Manuel B. Villar, Senators Rodolfo G. Biazon and Jose Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, Representative Liza L. Maza, Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Purificacion V. Quisumbing, PNU President Lutgardo B. Barbo, and some members of the diplomatic corps.

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