MANILA (UPDATED)— The Supreme Court on Friday postponed oral arguments on the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act after Solicitor-General Jose Calida told the High Court that some of his staff tested positive for COVID-19.
This, after the SC repeatedly denied Calida's bid to cancel oral arguments on petitions questioning the law. The oral arguments were originally scheduled on Jan. 19 at 2 p.m.
Oral arguments were rescheduled to Feb. 2, at 2:30 p.m., according to a notice from Edgar Aricheta, the SC Clerk of Court.
“Considering the meritorious request of Solicitor General Jose Calida that his Assistant Solicitor General and some staff who will attend the Oral Arguments have been tested positive for COVID-19, you are hereby informed, per instruction of the Honorable Supreme Court, that the Oral Arguments is reset,” the notice read.
“No further postponement will be allowed,” it also warned.
Calida's office said 7 employees tested positive for COVID-19, prompting them to close from Jan. 18 to Jan. 20.
"Only personnel from the sanitation and disinfection team will be allowed in the premises. All other employees will continue to perform their work/functions under alternative work arrangements. During said period, no documents will be personally received by the office," the Office of the Solicitor General said.
The announcement came 3 days after the Supreme Court denied Calida’s latest bid to cancel the oral arguments through an urgent partial motion for reconsideration of the Jan. 5 SC advisory filed on Jan. 11.
No further details were available as to when Calida informed the High Court regarding the supposed positive test results or whether the results were submitted and validated by the Court.
It is also not immediately clear what prompted the assistant solicitor general and Office of the Solicitor General's staff, who were not named, to undergo COVID-19 testing earlier than the 72-hour period before the oral arguments required by the Court.
That 72-hour period will not start until 2 p.m. on Saturday.
SC spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said he has “no other information other than what is stated in the notice.”
Cancellation of oral arguments
Calida had moved for the cancellation of the oral arguments as early as August last year citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said it would be impossible to observe “social distancing” during the oral arguments involving 37 petitions and that public gatherings would violate quarantine protocols.
But the SC initially denied his plea on this basis, adopting several measures such as limiting the number of physical attendees and requiring RT-PCR tests for those who would attend, including the media.
The Anti-Terrorism Act is one of the most contentious laws passed in recent years, with various groups coming together to challenge the constitutionality of the anti-terrorism measure.