MANILA - Former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te made his way back to the high court on Tuesday, more than 4 months after his resignation, to argue before the magistrates he once spoke for.
Te, a human rights lawyer who belongs to the Free Legal Assistance Group, represented the Lumad from Mindanao who filed the fourth petition questioning the third extension of martial law in the region, along with fellow human rights lawyer and senatorial aspirant Chel Diokno.
In their petition, the Lumad claimed they personally experienced harassment as a consequence of the imposition and extension of martial law in Mindanao.
The petition was not originally part of the 3 consolidated petitions up for oral arguments before the SC on Tuesday.
The 3 earlier petitions were filed by the Magnificent 7 and Makabayan bloc lawmakers, and a group of human rights advocates.
While on his way inside the SC prior to the start of the oral arguments, Te told reporters that he expects to watch the entire proceeding since FLAG had not yet received any order consolidating its petition with the others.
But at the last minute, the names of Te and Diokno were added to the counsel table. They were also asked to don robes, which is required of every lawyer arguing before the magistrates of the high court.
The media later learned the fourth petition was consolidated with the rest only on the same day.
While most of the proceeding was focused on the side of the government, Te was among only 3 counsels for petitioners called to argue, aside from Diokno and Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman.
It was his former colleague from the University of the Philippines College of Law, Justice Francis Jardeleza, who quizzed Te about the Lumad petition.
Jardeleza asked Te why the petition should not be dismissed outright for invoking factual allegations in the affidavits of petitioners that the SC cannot look into. As held in several decisions, the high court is not a trier of facts.
“This court, I’m saying, has no jurisdiction to hear or go into the affidavits that you have submitted to the court. Indeed, if there are violations of human rights, I agree, go after the perpetrators but this Court is not your forum,” Jardeleza said.
The high court, in an earlier decision upholding the extension of martial law, had said that alleged human rights violations committed during the implementation of martial law should be resolved in a separate proceeding and not used as a basis for nullifying the extension of martial law.
But Te insisted the Court could inquire into how Congress exercised its review powers as well as martial law itself.
“We do believe that while the Court may just look at the sufficiency of the factual basis of the martial law, the Court may also inquire as to whether or not Congress actually exercised its powers to review the sufficiency of the factual basis of martial law in a sound manner and should for example your honor those incidents, if those incidents have been taken up your honor, then the Congress should have looked into that. That’s the first your honor,” he said.
“The second thing your honor, as far as the main relief that is being sought here, it is really to review martial law your honor,” he added.
But Jardeleza dismissed Te’s arguments.
“It seems to me that those factual questions are not fit for this Court to hear and decide right now. Please cover it in your memo,” he said.
Te was the last to be called before the oral arguments were adjourned on Tuesday.
Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin announced the cancellation of the second day of the oral arguments originally set on Wednesday.
For Te, his return to the high tribunal was a happy reunion with colleagues and magistrates he once worked with for 5 years.
Te, who first rose to prominence in the 1990s when he sought to stop the execution of Leo Echegaray, resigned in Aug. 2018, shortly after the appointment of former Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro.
His term was co-terminus with ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, but he was asked to stay on in a hold-over capacity by Senior Associate Justice and then Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio.
Te tweeted “I dissent!” shortly after announcing the quo warranto decision in May last year that ousted Sereno.