By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter

LAWYERS’ groups and opposition lawmakers asked the Supreme Court on Monday to stop the government of President Rodrigo R. Duterte from enforcing a law expanding anti-terror crimes, saying the measure arms the state to stifle dissent and violate human rights.

In separate lawsuits, the plaintiffs also asked the high court to void clauses of the law for being illegal.

Lawyers led by Howard M. Calleja submitted a printed copy of the petition they submitted electronically at the weekend. Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman filed the second pleading while law professors from Far Eastern University (FEU) led by Dean Melencio S. Sta. Maria filed the third.

A bloc of opposition congressmen also filed a separate lawsuit.

The FEU professors argued the Anti-Terrorism law’s definition of the crime is vague and “overly broad,” covering “traditionally recognized and protected forms of expression against government shortcomings and excesses.”

“In effect, the general manner by which the provision is couched puts constitutionally protected speeches and expressions under a criminal class, or at least, to a suspect class, to the detriment of these freedoms,” they said in a statement.

They also said the law allows warrantless arrests based on suspicion, which violates a person’s basic rights.

“With the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, the imminent and real danger of silencing the public and sending a chilling effect to detractors of the government has become real,” according to the lawsuit.

The law considers attacks that cause death or serious injury, extensive damage to property and manufacture, possession, acquisition, transport and supply of weapons or explosives as terrorist acts.

It also creates an anti-terror Council made up of Cabinet officials who can perform acts reserved for courts, such as ordering the arrest of suspected terrorists. It also allows the state to keep a suspect in jail without an arrest warrant for 14 days from three days now.

The law, which repeals the Human Security Act of 2007, also allows the Anti-Money Laundering Council to examine bank deposits that may be related to terrorism and freeze these accounts without a court order.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lagman said the country does not need another anti-terror law and the government should instead enforce the old law.

“In a democratic society, security must never be attained or maintained at the expense of human rights and civil liberties,” the congressman said. “Derogation of freedom is not the price for security and peace, but the precursor of people’s unrest and righteous resistance.”

The congressional bloc also argued the law violates freedom of speech and the right to privacy because it allows the state to monitor suspects and record communications with a court order.

The lawmakers said the law is replete with unconstitutional provisions and should be nullified as a whole.

Presidential Spokesman Harry L. Roque said the law that Mr. Duterte signed on Friday safeguards people’s rights.

“You don’t have to worry if you’re not a terrorist,” he told an online news briefing in Filipino on Monday. “There are enough safeguards in the law.”

A terrorist is someone who tries to harm or kill a person, destroys or damages public or private property, interferes with critical infrastructure, develops, owns, or transports weapons and explosives, and causes fires, floods and explosions, according to the law.

It also provides that protests, advocacy and similar exercises of civil and political rights that don’t seek to harm people are not terror acts. — with Gillian M. Cortez