MANILA — Four months and 37 petitions after, the Supreme Court has set the date for a preliminary conference on the pleas questioning the constitutionality of the country's anti-terror law.
“On the petitions questioning Republic Act No. 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (ATA), the Court scheduled the preliminary conference of the same on 26 November 2020,” SC spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka announced in a statement Tuesday.
Thirty-seven petitions have been filed against the anti-terrorism measure with several groups reiterating, through various motions, their pleas to stop its enforcement soon after the issuance of the law’s implementing rules and regulations last month.
But no temporary restraining order (TRO), nor a status quo ante order (SQAO) has been issued so far.
A TRO seeks to maintain an existing status by preventing the implementation of an action, while an SQAO restores a specific condition to its state before the issuance of an order or action.
“The Court has yet to schedule the date for the oral arguments,” Hosaka said.
In August, the high court said it will set the oral arguments “on the 3rd week of September, at the earliest” but no date had been announced.
In an online press conference on October 23, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta explained the sheer number of petitions against the ATA is proving to be a hindrance for the Supreme Court to move forward with the case.
“The problem with the too many petitions, there are so many issues that are raised. So what we suggested to the member in charge during this time is to come up with the issues - what are the common issues? Ila-lump yung issues into common, and then list down issues that are not common,” Peralta said.
“We cannot proceed to oral arguments if we have not yet determined what actually are the issues. Kaya ang suggestion namin sa member in charge - and she accepted our suggestion - to come up with common issues during this time when we go back to regular session on November 3,” he added.
At that time, the magistrates were on a 2-week writing break. They resumed resumed holding sessions Tuesday.
In the same presscon, Peralta said they hope to be able to set a final date for the oral arguments by mid-November.
But he raised another concern — logistics.
“If there are 37 petitions and everybody would like to argue their respective petitions, where we will place them? And then, the Office of the Solicitor General will bring all his assistant SolGens to assist him when we bring them to an oral argument,” he said.
“Kaya ang sabi namin, ganito na lang: 'Pag na-determine mo ang common issues at sa lahat-lahat na, then conduct a preliminary conference, something like that. And all those lawyers, petitioners who have common issues, they will just appoint one to argue. Anyway, common naman yung positions nila. That's what we are doing,” he added.
Solicitor General Jose Calida had previously opposed the conduct of oral arguments on the petitions questioning the anti-terrorism measure, citing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
Calida said at least 300 petitioners will have to converge for the oral arguments, violating quarantine protocols.
He also rejected holding oral arguments through videoconference, saying he would still need at least 25 lawyers and staff to stay with him in 1 room.
Several groups, such as the Free Legal Assistance Group, Bayan Muna and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, opposed Calida’s move, saying it as a “disservice to overwhelming public interest.”
Amid criticisms that the SC has not acted on the petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act, Peralta assured the public, “We are actually moving fast."
"We try to move fast. But because there are so many petitions, mahirap kasi… It’s like this: lahat 'yan mag-a-argue. 'Yung i-a-argue ng first lawyer, eh, ganun i-a-argue nya eh. So what will happen? The same question din, paulit-ulit,” he said.
Domingo Cayosa earlier said the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, which he heads, has facilitated a meeting among the petitioners shortly after the top magistrate’s statements, to facilitate “coordination and orderly presentation of the issues and arguments.”