Several teachers and professors on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to declare Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 as unconstitutional for being “violative of academic freedom.”
The SC said it would hold oral arguments on the petitions in the third week of this month at the earliest.
Solicitor General Jose Calida, representing the government, has sought the cancellation of the oral arguments, citing risks posed by COVID-19 pandemic.
In filing the 31st petitions against the anti-terrorism law, 72 members of the academe and of teachers' groups warned that they stood to suffer from the "chilling effect" created by the provisions of the law, many of which they said were "overbroad," "vague," and “violative of rights guaranteed under the 1987 Constitution.”
According to the education stakeholders, reading materials they may assign to students that may express certain advocacies or political views, class discussions and demonstrations, and researches on topics that are critical of the government may be construed by law enforcers as acts of terrorism or its related crimes.
They expressed apprehension that progressive teachers and those who encourage their students to be critical of the country's "exploitative and oppressive" social system might also be considered subjects of the law.
"This kind of environment would add another layer of chilling effect on academics, educators and writers such as petitioners to limit their ideas and criticisms that they may put into writing or in choosing materials for their students to read…to achieve academic potential and excellence in the academe," the petitioners stressed.
The petitioners also argued that a "badly written" law such as the anti-terrorism law would "embolden state forces to abuse and weaponize the law against dissenters."
The educators said eight of the petitioners were members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, an organization that they claimed had been "subjected to red-tagging, vilification, profiling and harassment from law enforcement and government agencies."
The anti-terrorism law has been widely criticized by different sectors for the alleged threats to basic human rights, such as the freedom of speech and expression.
Despite reassurances by government officials that the law will not be used against activists, critics still filed petitions, making the anti-terrorism law one of the most challenged laws before the Supreme Court.
Besides educators, retired SC justices, lawyers, activists, youth leaders, labor groups, artists, journalists, and several other organizations earlier filed their respective petitions asking the high court to declare the law unconstitutional.