MANILA – The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) has moved to cancel oral arguments on the petitions questioning the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
In an urgent motion filed on Monday, the OSG cited the continuous rise of COVID-19 cases in the country which it says renders the conduct of oral arguments “unsafe and impractical.”
The OSG cited more than 178,000 confirmed cases as of August 21, based on official figures. That figure has risen to almost 190,000 as of August 23.
It pointed out that holding oral arguments make “social distancing” impossible and public gatherings are prohibited under the quarantine protocol in place, estimating that at least 300 petitioners in their individual capacity filed petitions against the anti-terrorism measure. Twenty-nine petitions have so far been filed.
The OSG said holding oral arguments through videoconferencing would not solve the health risks because it would still require people to gather in a confined space.
“For the OSG alone, this means that at least twenty-five (25) individuals, including the Solicitor General, at least seven (7) Assistant Solicitor General, at least eight (8) administrative/support staff, and at least four (4) I.T. personnel, would have to gather in a limited space during the entire proceeding,” it said.
“Note, as well, that some of these individuals are over sixty (60) years old, who, according to the IATF, are even required to remain in their residences at all times,” it added.
The OSG said at least 14 of their employees have contracted the coronavirus despite implementing health measures. Four of them are staff/security guards assigned directly to Solicitor General Jose Calida’s office.
Citing developments in the United States, it argued that that US Supreme Court has cancelled 9 oral arguments due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But the OSG’s motion did not mention that the US Supreme Court also made history in May when it held its first-ever oral arguments by phone.
'NOT A TRIER OF FACTS'
The OSG also took the opportunity to reiterate procedural grounds against the petitions, invoking the doctrine that the Supreme Court is not a trier of facts and the absence of an actual case or controversy to warrant.
Veteran lawyer and former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza last week filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to allow him to appear as amicus curiae or friend of the court but already took the position that the petitions should be dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction.
“The petitions do not sufficiently allege, much less show, that the petitioners have committed any act in violation of the ‘Anti-Terrorism Act’ thereby creating an ‘actual controversy’ involving a legally demandable and enforceable right for the exercise of judicial power under Section 1, second paragraph, of Article VIII of the Constitution,” he said.
The OSG added, the conduct of oral arguments is not mandatory.
Instead, it suggested other alternatives such as the submission of memoranda and written opening statement. And if there are clarifications, it said the Court can issue a resolution with the clarificatory questions.
Supreme Court spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka confirmed the OSG electronically filed the urgent motion Monday morning.
Petitioner lawyer Howard Calleja said government was preferring to "hide on technicalities rather than confront the issues head on" as he cited 2 motions have so far been filed before the high court as attempts to "derail the speedy disposition of the anti-terror law."
"At the core of this case are rights and lives of the Filipino people technicalities must give way to the merits of the petition," he said.
The Supreme Court earlier said it would hold oral arguments sometime “on the 3rd week of September, at the earliest.”