Manila court rules anti-terror law constitutional

AP News
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Posted: Oct 10, 2010 9:46 PM
Manila court rules anti-terror law constitutional

The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of a 2007 anti-terror law, which the government sought to bolster a U.S.-backed campaign against al-Qaida-linked militants but critics fear could muzzle civil liberties.

Left-wing alliance Bayan, one of the groups that sought the repeal of the Human Security Act, said Monday it would appeal last Friday's ruling. The law rarely has been used since it took effect because law enforcers fear the heavy punishment it includes for mistaken arrests and abuses.

Then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a staunch Asian ally of the U.S. campaign against terrorism, signed the anti-terror law in 2007 to turn her Southeast Asian country _ regarded as a breeding ground of Islamic radicals _ into a hostile territory for militants.

Arroyo cited terrorist attacks, including the bombing of buses, telecommunications and power lines.

The United States and Australia welcomed the new law, which took effect in July 2007. U.S. and Australian security officials have expressed fears that suspected terror training camps in the southern Philippines could produce militants who could strike anywhere in the world.

But several left-wing groups, legislators and human rights advocates separately petitioned the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional, arguing its definition of terrorism was too broad and could cover legitimate dissent like labor strikes, anti-U.S. demonstrations and even daring stunts by Greenpeace activists who barge into ships and power plants.

The law defines terrorism as any of at least 12 violent crimes _ including murder, kidnapping, arson, piracy, coup and rebellion _ that cause widespread and extraordinary panic and force the government to give in to an unlawful demand.

It allows detention of suspected terrorists without charge for three days and their rendition to other countries.

The court said in its 45-page decision that the petitioners could not prove that the law has done them any actual damage, adding no court has declared any militant group a terrorist organization three years since the law took effect.

"Allegations of abuse must be anchored on real events before courts may step in to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable," the court said.

Renato Reyes of Bayan said activists would not wait until state forces, which have been accused of human rights violations, use the law against them.

"We have a long experience of activists being killed and harassed so we went to court to fight this law at the first instance," Reyes said.

Philippine officials have said that legislators watered down the anti-terror bill with safeguards so much that police became afraid to use it. For example, the law provides that police be fined 500,000 pesos ($11,600) for each day they wrongfully detain a terror suspect.

The law is known to have been used only twice. Philippine police cited the law to charge three bombing suspects with terrorism in November 2008.

Two months ago, state prosecutors asked a court in southern Basilan province to outlaw the small but brutal Abu Sayyaf group and more than 200 of its Islamic fighters as terrorists, citing more than two decades of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.