SC to start oral arguments on anti-terror law this month, no word yet on ex-SolGen's amicus curiae bid

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 08 2021 02:41 PM

MANILA — Oral arguments on petitions questioning the Anti-Terrorism Act before the Supreme Court will push through on Jan. 19, based on a revised advisory released Friday.

The High Court has yet to give word on former Solicitor General and veteran lawyer Estelito Mendoza’s bid to appear as amicus curiae or friend of the court, offering his long experience as government lawyer, litigator and faculty member of the University of the Philippines College of Law to provide expert advice to SC magistrates.

In a motion to clarify his status dated Nov. 20 but received by one of the petitioners only on Thursday, Mendoza asked the SC to resolve his petition, which also requested the High Court to admit his comment where he expressed his view that the petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act should be dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction, based on his reading of the petitions filed by lawyer Howard Calleja and retired SC Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

Carpio and his fellow-petitioners have rejected Mendoza’s “expertise,” saying he is not an “impartial” lawyer and that he lacked the relevant experience.

An amicus curiae is an experienced and impartial attorney whose opinion is sought by the Supreme Court to settle certain issues.

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Carpio noted that Mendoza’s experience as Solicitor General took place during martial law under a different legal regime and that Mendoza had no experience on laws dealing with anti-terrorism measures.

The retired Supreme Court Justice also doubted Mendoza’s impartiality, noting that the latter himself had already sought the outright dismissal of the petitions, calling him a “friend of the Respondents.”

In his comment, Mendoza said the High Court could not entertain the petitions because there was no actual controversy since no act has been allegedly committed. 

He explained that a facial challenge (contesting the law based on its language) cannot be made against a penal statute.

Carpio and his fellow-petitioners said a facial challenge to a law is allowed in right to free speech and freedom of the press cases.

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In its revised advisory Friday, the Supreme Court limited the number of participants who could physically attend the oral arguments.

Only 8 lawyers from the petitioners’ side will argue on 21 issues previously identified by the court while Solicitor General Jose Calida will only be allowed to bring 3 lawyers.

Each side will be given 45 minutes to argue on all points — 15 minutes more than the initial 30-minute period given to each side in November.

Other petitioners whose lawyers are not part of the 8 arguing their case may send 1 lawyer each as representative.

All participants attending in person will be required to submit a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test result, taken within 72 hours before the oral arguments on Jan. 19 at 2 p.m.

Among the issues the SC had previously identified were:

  • whether petitioners have the legal standing to sue
  • if they can they directly bring their petitions to the Supreme Court through a facial challenge. 

Each side will also have to address if the Court should issue a temporary restraining order or a similar relief pending resolution of the petitions.

The substantive issues will deal with the definitions of terrorism and related crimes, the powers of the Anti-Terrorism Council and the Anti-Money Laundering Council, as well as the constitutionality of arrests without judicial warrant, surveillance and proscription, among others.

Petitions were filed against the controversial anti-terror law over provisions that may allegedly lead to human rights abuses. President Rodrigo Duterte signed the measure into law in July, despite heavy protests.