Posted by: nupl | November 11, 2007

Palace has military-civilian junta in mind when it formed the Anti-Terror Council on HSA, says lawyers’ group

September 9, 2007

Press Release

The Malacañang Palace has in mind the formation of a powerful military-civilian junta when it formed the Anti-Terror Council to administer the controversial Human Security Act of 2007, a national human rights lawyers group on Sunday said.

“The ATC is a military-civilian junta composed of public, military and retired military officials with bad human rights records,” the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said in a press statement. “The ATC in executing the country’s anti-terror law will be capable of violating the basic human rights and civil liberties of the people at any given time and in any given place and situation,” the lawyers’ group added.

The NUPL composed of 120 human rights lawyers across the country said the ATC headed by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, on-leave Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, Local and interior government secretary Ronaldo Puno, supported by operatives of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) office of Civil Defense and the Philippine National Police (PNP) intelligence and investigative elements is extremely dangerous group.

The NUPL said “under Section 54 of the anti-terrorism law, the council has the vague yet powerful function of “coordinating national efforts to suppress and eradicate acts of terrorism” and “mobilize the entire nation” against terrorism. This allows the ATC not only to deputize the entire government machinery, but also the power to force information and other forms of cooperation from media entities, bank officials and other private bodies.”

The group further said, “paragraph 5 of Sec.54, also empowers the ATC to “Freeze the funds, property …. and records belonging to persons suspected of or charged with …conspiracy to commit terrorism.’ This not only violates the Constitution but existing laws themselves, because it actually grants the ATC the quasi-judicial function to freeze assets of mere suspects. At the hands of politicized cabinet members, this is a powerful tool not only to harass dissenters and the media, but also political opponents.”

The NUPL also said the ATC may also have been surreptitiously granted the power to determine probable cause, a power reserved for the prosecution and the courts, under Section 18 by giving it the power to ‘authorize’ the police and the military to arrest suspects without warrant:

“This badly drafted provision grants the police and the AFP the power to arrest people without warrant provided they are “authorized in writing” by the ATC, another transgression of the judicial power to determine probable cause and issue arrest warrants,” Atty. Colmenares added.

The NUPL said the ATC as a powerful military-civilian junta is empowered under Sec. 54 (4) of the anti-terror law with sweeping powers to ‘establish and maintain comprehensive data-base information on terrorism, terrorist activities and counter terrorism operations”. “This virtually grants it the power to maintain dossier on anybody in the Philippines considering that the overbroad definition of terrorism, including the vague ‘conspiracy’ to commit terrorism, could include any one,” the human rights lawyers’ group added.

“The NUPL plans to use the Writ of Habeas Data once the rule is promulgated by the Supreme Court, to temper these sweeping powers of the ATC by allowing those in the ATC database, the recourse to correct and even destroy patently inaccurate data and analysis gathered through surveillance,” they said.

The NUPL asserted that the writ of habeas data is a constitutional concept which started in Brazil intended to protect the “image, privacy, honor, information self-determination and freedom of information of person”. Any citizen may file a complaint under this Writ to find out what information is held by government on his or her person.

The group said the writ of habeas data allows complainants to ask the Court, should to they find the data inaccurate and maliciously detrimental to their honor, image or security, to order that the data be rectified or even destroyed. Under the Sec. 16 of the HSA a subject of unlawful surveillance can only access the information illegally obtained but cannot demand its destruction.

The NUPL also said opposition figures, members of the media, or human rights lawyers, may therefore demand from the ATC a copy of their dossier to see if the ATC data base contains information that is incorrect or erroneously and maliciously fed by agencies intending to harass the subject. The writ plays an important role in a situation when the constitutional right to information is not respected through mechanisms such as EO 464 and the constant defense of ‘confidentiality’ and ‘national security’ by the government.

The NUPL will also take a lead role in the prosecution of those accused of human rights violations such as Gen. Jovito Palparan, who was recently charged with responsibility for the enforced disappearance of the two UP students. Enforced disappearance is a ‘continuing crime’ as long as the disappeared is not surfaced and the perpetrator persists in ‘denying the fate or whereabouts’ of the disappeared. #

For Reference: Atty. Neri Colmenares, NUPL preparatory committee member

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