SC junks 2 Aetas’ bid to intervene in anti-terror law petitions

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 09 2021 03:41 PM | Updated as of Feb 09 2021 08:29 PM

MANILA (UPDATE)— The Supreme Court has denied the bid of 2 Aetas, who are accused of terrorism, to intervene in the petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta bared during Tuesday’s oral arguments on petitions challenging the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Peralta was prompted to disclose the ruling in response to Solicitor General Jose Calida’s bid to postpone the oral arguments by claiming that the Aetas had executed an affidavit of desistance.

In their petition-in-intervention last week, Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos claimed they were tortured and falsely accused of terrorism, among other charges, and filed a petition-in-intervention alleging direct injury at the hands of law enforcers.

They claimed that the definition of terrorism fails to give fair notice to ordinary citizens as to what is lawful and prohibited.

But at the start of the second round of oral arguments, Calida manifested that the 2 Aetas have allegedly executed an affidavit of desistance supposedly claiming that they did not want to file the petition-in-intervention and were allegedly forced to sign in exchange for P1,000.

“Binigyan po kami ng isang libo at hatiin daw po namin. Sinabihan pa nga ako na hindi ka ba naaawa sa abogada galing pa siya sa Manila para papirmahin ka lang. Aming inuurong ang petition for intervention na aming napirmahan sa kadahilanang hindi bukal sa aming puso ang pagpirma,” Calida said, reading from the supposed affidavits of the 2 Aetas.

(We were given P1,000 and we should split between us. We were told don't you pity the lawyer who had to come from Manila just to get your signature? We are withdrawing the petition for intervention that we signed willingly.)

Calida even tried to present 3 videos but was cut short by Peralta. He was instead ask to verbally explain his point briefly.

After this, Peralta dismissed Calida's manifestation by informing him that the petition-in-intervention has in fact been unanimously dismissed by the court. 

"The petition for intervention has been unanimously denied by us this morning, so is there still a need for you to read all of those documents because we have already denied the petition for intervention?” he asked.

"If you still want to push through with what you want to manifest to us, I believe you can put that in writing so that the other party can comment later on," he added. 

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers’ chair Neri Colmenares registered his objection to Calida’s manifestation.

“We would like to know when they talked to the Aetas? Were there counsels present? Why were we not aware?” he asked, pointing out that the Aetas are currently detained in a PNP camp facing terrorism, murder and other charges.

The NUPL later said in a separate statement that the 2 Aetas couldn't have been forced to sign since "they could not read or write", and that they just affixed their thumbmarks in their petition.

"Junior readily affixed his thumbmark while Japer affixed his after he was able to talk to some of his elder relatives by phone. The woman Notary Public came to the BJMP jail the next day January 31 who asked them if the Petition-in-Intervention was explained to them before he notarized the document," the lawyers' union said. 

This is not the first time Calida presented affidavits of desistance of petitioners in an attempt to have a petition dismissed.

In July 2019, Calida told the Supreme Court that Zambales and Palawan fishermen said they were deceived into filing a writ of kalikasan petition against the government seeking protection of the West Philippine Sea.

That case was filed by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the petitioners were represented by law dean Chel Diokno. The IBP and Diokno are also petitioners against the Anti-Terrorism Act.

A Palawan fisherman later told ABS-CBN News he was pressured by the Philippine Navy and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to withdraw the petition against the government.

The Supreme Court eventually junked the IBP kalikasan petition based on the petitioners' request to withdraw, with a stern warning against the IBP.

Calida invoked this on Tuesday’s oral arguments.

Reacting to Calida’s manifestation, former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te said on Twitter: 

“That was a non sequitur- just because the parties decided to change counsel (assuming that’s true) doesn’t mean the #ATAOrals shouldn’t continue - and also OA much,” he said.

A Supreme Court source told ABS-CBN News separately that magistrates junked the Aetas’ petition-in-intervention because there are factual issues involved, which a trial court can better look into, not the Supreme Court.

NUPL said that Julian Oliva, legal counsel of NUPL-National, "carefully, meticulously and clearly" explained to the two Aetas what the petition-in-intervention was about, its relation, and effect on the charges against them.

"There was no coercion, force, deceit, misrepresentation, favor or any other act or omission that vitiated the free, prior and informed consent of the Aetas to agree to the filing of the Petition-in-Intervention as the well-documented (videos and photos) consultations with Atty. Oliva was conducted before a long table separated by a plastic barrier within sight and hearing distance of the BJMP guards," the union said.

"In fact, it was a long and tedious process that is why the Petition-in-Intervention was only filed in the morning of the Oral arguments on February 2, 2021."

It also said supposed representatives of National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and Public Attorney's Office reportedly have visited the Aetas to persuade them to cut off their relationship with NUPL.

The union stressed its right to formally address, in writing, Calida's manifestations and any motion his office may file in relation to his claims.

"We shall await the Resolution of the SC which denied the Petition-in-Intervention and ask our NUPL-CL lawyers to address it accordingly," it said.

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