MANILA (UPDATED) — The Supreme Court (SC) has set a date to hear oral arguments on several petitions filed against the controversial Anti-Terrorism Law, according to on an advisory a petitioner received Friday, which was also subsequently released to the media.
The oral arguments are set to begin on January 19, 2021 at 2 p.m., according to the high court’s advisory. It also enumerated issues to be discussed.
The SC previously scheduled a preliminary conference on Nov. 26.
As of Nov. 3, 37 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.
The petitions warn of several provisions in the law that they believe may lead to human rights violations.
In its advisory, the high court identified 6 preliminary and 15 substantive issues which will be discussed during the oral arguments. The rest will have to be discussed in the written memoranda which parties are required to submit after the oral arguments.
Substantive issues centered on the definitions of terrorism and related offenses which include threats to commit terrorism, planning, training, preparing and facilitating terrorism, conspiracy, proposal, inciting to terrorism and material support.
Petitioners have claimed these definitions are vague and are too broad that they could cover legitimate actions. Some of the provisions, they said, violate the rights to due process and free speech, and punish actions which were legal when they were done (ex post facto) or membership in a group declared illegal (bill of attainder).
Since terrorism and related offenses are covered by the same penalty, the SC wants to know if this violates the constitutional prohibition against imposing cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment.
The powers of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) will also be scrutinized, it said, with SC looking into its authority to: designate terrorists, approve requests for designation by other jurisdictions, apply for proscription of terrorists before the Court of Appeals, authorize arrest and detention without judicial warrant and based only on mere suspicion, adopt security classifications for its records, maintain a comprehensive database information systems on terrorism and counterterrorism operations, grant monetary rewards and require private entities and to assist the ATC.
Other key issues include the conduct of surveillance on suspected terrorists, the proscription or seeking of a court declaration outlawing individuals or certain groups as terrorists, the extended detention period of up to 24 days if arrest is authorized by the ATC, and the restriction on the right to travel.
In addition, the oral arguments will also tackle the Anti-Money Laundering Council’s authority to examine and freeze bank deposits and other assets, and the DOJ and the ATC’s power to promulgate implementing rules and regulations to enforce the ATA.
Among the preliminary issues are the legal standing or capacity of petitioners to sue and whether they could directly go to the Supreme Court to seek relief; if a temporary restraining order (TRO) or status quo ante order (SQAO) should be issued; and whether the Court can entertain a facial challenge based solely on the language of the law without alleging direct injury.
And should SC find the definition of terrorism and powers of the ATC constitutionally infirm, can the high court already declare the entire Anti-Terrorism Act unconstitutional?
WHO WILL ARGUE?
The SC has limited the presentation of arguments by petitioners and respondents to a total of 30 minutes per side.
But with 37 petitioners against the Anti-Terror Law, SC required parties to coordinate with each other and submit the names of the presenting lawyers for a particular issue or group of issues and the time allotted to each lawyer.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines previously initiated a meeting among petitioners to facilitate orderly presentation of issues but it is unclear what arrangement, if at all, was arrived at.
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.
In the advisory released Friday, he was only allowed not more than 3 lawyers to join him.
There was no mention in the advisory if arrangements for online or video conferencing are being considered.
The advisory was also silent as to the issuance of a TRO or SQAO before this will be discussed in January’s oral arguments.
In a statement, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers President Edre Olalia, one of the petitioners and whose group also serves as counsel to some petitioners, welcomed the SC’s setting of a date for oral arguments.
“We look forward to a transparent, dynamic and exhaustive legal interchange and hope that the unprecedented number of petitions and diverse petitioners that have met at intersecting positions will all collectively contribute to upholding the so-called rule of law, be faithful to constitutional precepts and re-establish the deteriorating fortress of human rights and freedoms,” Olalia said.
“However, given that the question of a TRO or a SQA order has been tabled as a preliminary issue until January 19, 2021 yet, we entertain the apprehension though that meanwhile no further onslaughts on basic rights happen considering the current intensifying political weaponization of the law,” he added.