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Philippines high court upholds controversial anti-terror law

The Supreme Court of the Philippines [official website] on Friday unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the controversial Human Security Act (HSA) 2007 [text, PDF], ruling the petitioners lacked legal standing to challenge the law because it had not caused them any actual damage. In its decision, the court noted that law enforcement officers' reluctance to enforce the law [JURIST report] means it has had no real effect on the civil liberties of militant groups. The controversial act, signed [JURIST report] in 2007 by then-president Gloria Arroyo, authorizes the 72-hour detention of suspects without charge and allows for surveillance, wiretapping and seizure of assets. On the other hand, it says that officers who perform an unauthorized wiretap or violate the rights of a detainee could face up to 12 years in prison. Critics of the legislation were concerned it could be used by the government to stifle political dissent under the cover of anti-terror operations. Jigs Clamor, Secretary General for petitioner National Alliance for Human Rights in Philippines [official website], said the ruling will only increase human rights violations [press release] "If violations were rampant even before the SC ruling, then it would definitely worsen with a strengthened legal framework by which state authorities could suppress civil and political liberties. This is paving way for more violation of human rights." The petitioners had asked the court to grant a temporary restraining order against enforcement of the law pending the case outcome. They are expected to appeal the ruling.

Even before the controversial law went into effect [JURIST report], there was substantial opposition to the legislation. In March 2007, UN human rights expert Martin Scheinin recommended that the act be amended or repealed [JURIST report]. Also that year, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines urged the government to revisit the act [JURIST report], saying that "many voices are apprehensive" about the anti-terror legislation. In response to criticism, Filipino presidential spokesperson Ignacio Bunye said that the law had already undergone "exhaustive debates" in the legislature [JURIST report]. The government also announced plans for a "massive public information and advocacy campaign" [press release] to accompany implementation and highlight "the existence of terror cells in the region and throughout the world."

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