Four Ways an Ordinary Citizen Can Inadvertently Violate the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020

Republic Act No. 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, was signed into law by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on 3 July 2020. Since its passing, the law has received different reactions from various groups. On the one hand, there are groups which express fear as to the scope of the law, claiming that dissent expressed by ordinary citizens can be easily tagged as terrorism. On the other hand, some groups reiterate that the law is not something that ordinary individuals should be frightened of because it provides sufficient safeguards anyway.


The firm does not aim to state whether any of these sentiments are correct. However, in the interest of caution, here are four things that an ordinary citizen or individual like you might do which can potentially land you in jail for unknowingly violating the Anti-Terrorism Act.


  • Posting critical statements


The mere posting of statements that critique the government or the administration could potentially fall under Section 9 of the Act, which talks about inciting to terrorism. Section 9 penalizes “any person who, without taking any direct part in the commission of terrorism, shall incite others to the execution of any of the acts specified in Section 4 hereof by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners, or other representations tending to the same end.” 


Because of the broad definition of terrorism under the law, incitement to terrorism now has a wider scope as well. In fact, former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, one of the petitioners questioning the constitutionality the law, mentioned that “impassioned activism” may fall under “extensive interference with critical infrastructure.” Thus, online posts which seem to incite or encourage others to intimidate the government or to interfere with critical infrastructure can now easily fall under incitement to terrorism. It is also worthy to note that the posts that can fall under this section need not be in the form of statements or writings alone, but can also be in the form of emblems, banners, or other representations.


  • Posting statements that advocate for mass action


In the same manner, mere posting of statements that call for mass actions, including rallies and protests, could potentially fall under Section 9 of the Act. Statements that call out to people to take it to the streets may be tagged as incitement to terrorism because it encourages them to commit what can be an act that falls under the definition of terrorism as provided in Section 4. This is especially true if the intent of the post appears to be to provoke or influence the government by intimidation, or to interfere with critical infrastructure. Again, the posts that can fall under this section can be statements, writings, emblems, banners, or other types of representations.


  • Donating to and supporting “terrorist individuals or groups”


Under the law, the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) has the power or authority to tag or designate specific individuals or groups as “terrorists.” Consequently, Section 12 penalizes anyone who “provides material support to any terrorist individual or terrorist organization, association, or group.” In fact, providing support to individuals or groups tagged as terrorists makes one principally liable for terrorism as well.


Thus, once the ATC uses its power to declare an individual or a group a terrorist, any support that is given to them will constitute a violation of Section 12. Other actions that may be interpreted as support include liking and sharing of posts made by those tagged as terrorist individuals or groups.


  • Creating risk to public safety


Mass demonstrations, rallies, and protests could potentially be penalized as terrorism under Section 4 of the Act, especially if they seem intended to create a serious risk to public safety. One group of petitioners against the law claims that a rally or strike could now be misconstrued as being intended to cause injury to persons, damage to property, or interference with infrastructure, which will bring such rally or strike within terrorism as defined by the law. Thus, even a peaceful protest that complies with the guidelines on physical distancing and mass gatherings could potentially be tagged as an act of terrorism if it appears that the intention of the participants is to cause injury to persons, damage to property, interference with infrastructure, or intimidation to the government.


The key element in the definition of terrorism in the new law appears to be the intent; thus, even if the act did not succeed in causing injury, damage, interference, or intimidation, mere intention to cause any of these automatically turns it into an act of terrorism.

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