MANILA - A group of petitioners against the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) has urged the Supreme Court to hold the preliminary conference scheduled later this month through videoconference, citing current health restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Senators Leila de Lima and Francis Pangilinan, journalists led by Ces Doyo, rights defenders led by Chel Diokno and constitutional framers Florangel Rosario-Braid and Edmundo Garcia, through their lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), filed an omnibus motion Monday asking SC to “allow the participation of parties in the preliminary conference on November 26, 2020 remotely via videoconference.”
Petitioners said this would “best balance” the need to urgently solve the 37 consolidated petitions against the anti-terrorism measure with the current public health realities brought about by the pandemic.
They noted that some of the petitioners are based in Visayas and Mindanao. With travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines still place and some localities experiencing resurgence of the pandemic, it would be “impracticable” to travel to Manila.
Holding a preliminary conference in person, they argued, would mean having 37 sets of counsels plus lawyers from the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) in one room. Even with RT-PCR or antigen tests to detect the coronavirus, they said neither test could account for the 72-hour window between testing and the conduct of the preliminary conference itself.
The OSG had earlier used the same argument against mass gathering to move for the cancellation of oral arguments on the consolidated petitions, but unlike the OSG which opposes even videoconferencing, petitioners pointed to lower courts holding proceedings through videoconference to show that there is an existing platform to ensure orderly conduct of proceedings.
“[T]here need not be any tradeoff between public health and the speedy and orderly resolution of the petitions against the ATA. Hence, while petitioners appreciate the prompt action of the Court through the setting of the preliminary conference, they submit that its end can be achieved in a healthy manner by conducting the said proceedings remotely,” petitioners said.
They also urged the Supreme Court to simplify the issues raised in the 37 petitions to the 3 most common issues:
- the overbreadth of the ATA (language of the law is so broad that it unnecessarily interferes with the exercise of constitutional rights, even if the purpose is to prohibit activities that the government may constitutionally prohibit)
- the void for vagueness of the ATA (law does not reasonably put a person on notice as to what may not be done or what is required)
- the necessity for the issuance of a status quo ante order (return to status before issuance of an order) or similar preliminary injunction by the Court.
“Procedural issues, in particular, may be argued by the parties through memoranda as they are not specific to the various petitioners,” read the motion.
Citing “clear and imminent danger to free speech,” petitioners challenged the constitutionality of the ATA in July and sought to stop its implementation.
It reiterated its plea for issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) in October after the issuance of the implementing rules and regulations of the ATA.
Thirty-seven petitions against the ATA were filed before the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta earlier said they should be able to announce the date for the oral arguments by mid-November.