Petitioners tell SC, OSG: Canceling oral arguments on anti-terrorism law 'disservice' to public interest
Activist groups marched from University of the Philippines Diliman to the Commission on Human Rights on June 4, 2020 to protest the passage of the "Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020."
AFP/Ted Aljibe
Petitioners tell SC, OSG: Canceling oral arguments on anti-terrorism law 'disservice' to public interest
Kristine Joy Patag ( - September 14, 2020 - 10:37am

MANILA, Philippines — Progressive groups led by BAYAN and a group of Sangguniang Kabataan leaders urged the Supreme Court to hold oral arguments on the petitions filed against Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 to allow the public to participate in discourse on the contentious law.

In a Joint Opposition filed Monday, through the National Union of Peoples Lawyers, the two groups of petitioners asked the SC to junk the Office of the Solicitor General’s motion to cancel the oral arguments on the petitions.

READ: SC to hold oral arguments for petitions vs anti-terrorism law | Solgen to SC: Oral arguments on anti-terror law unnecessary, unsafe due to pandemic

On official SC list, BAYAN filed the 11th while the SK officials and youth community leaders filed the 27th legal challenge against Republic Act 11479. Two more petitions filed via registered mail have yet to be received and docketed by the SC.

Solicitor General Jose Calida in August urged the SC to cancel the oral arguments, citing its risk and impracticality in this time of COVID-19 pandemic. Calida instead said the SC may order the submission of memoranda, clarificatory questions and written opening statements to the parties.

Matters of public concern

The groups told the court that the number of petitions filed against the law “only indicates the transcendental importance of these cases.” They added that arguments raised in the petitions center on issues that are matters of public concern.

“Cancelling the oral arguments will be a disservice to the overwhelming public interest in these cases,” the petitioners stressed.

“The public have the right to examine and discuss how respondents assisted by the OSG will defend the odious law,” they added.

The petitioners mounted a “facial challenge” against RA 11479. They argued that Section 4 of the law, which defines terrorism, fails to inform an ordinary citizen that his or her act may be deemed a criminal offense under the law. “The term is so vague and overbroad, it encroaches even upon constitutionally protected freedoms,” they added.

Opting for the alternatives proposed by the OSG, such as submission of memoranda, would deny the public the opportunity to take part in the “democratic discourse” on the case, the petitioners also said.

READ: Cheat sheet on the looming legal battle on the anti-terrorism law

They also pointed out that the SC has adjusted to the situation brought about by COVID-19, based on the various memoranda it put out while the country remains in continued quarantine.

They noted that even when Metro Manila was placed in the strictest quarantine protocols, the courts continued to function and shifted to conducting videoconferencing.

“Respondents, therefore, cannot now undermine the ability of the Honorable Court to conduct oral arguments in a way that balances the overriding public interest in these cases and the safety of the parties, their counsels, and the Court’s members and staff,” they added.

 “If courts in remote areas have been successful in conducting hearings online, there is no reason why the same cannot be done in Manila,” they said.

“Interestingly, for the proponents of a law that has been so ‘unfairly stigmatized,’ Respondents are averse to throwing light on the same through the oral arguments. It seems that by refusing to be subjected under public scrutiny, Respondents intend to obscure the law, which operates in the shadows,” the petitioners added.

The SC, in an en banc session on August 11, set the petitions for oral arguments, but a date has yet to be determined. The tribunal has also yet to announce whether the oral arguments will be held in-court or via videoconferencing.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: August 30, 2020 - 12:47pm

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Law on July 3 despite opposition from rights groups and civil society groups that it could be used to stifle human rights.

A petition against the law has been filed at the Supreme Court and other groups are preparing pleadings of their own.

Follow this page for updates. Photo courtesy of The STAR/Michael Varcas 

August 30, 2020 - 12:47pm

Desaparecidos, an organization made up of families of victims of enforced disappearances, is worried that more may go missing under the anti-terrrorism law.

"We fear that Duterte's terror law will enable State forces to resort to extraordinary measures such as abductions and enforced disappearances like what they did to my daughter to instill fear on its critics and activists as the government spins out of control because of the pandemic and the ailing economy," Erlinda Cadapan, Desaparecidos chairperson and mother of missing University of the Philippines student Sherlyn Cadapan, says in a statement.

She says that Section 29 of the Anti-Terrorism Act allows detention without charges for up to 24 days "practically opens up the option for State forces to resort to enforce disappearance rather than complying with legal requirements to detain suspects."

August 25, 2020 - 9:30am

The Free Legal Assistance Group, which represents senators and media practitioners in a petition against the Anti-Terrorism Act, urges the Supreme Court to issue a temporart restraining order against the new law.

The group says the statement of Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gilbert Gapay to regulate social media is "repression in broad daylight."

"At the very least, the foregoing statements of the AFP Chief of Staff confirm that the ATA is both so overbroad and vague that it is susceptible to being used for an unconstitutional end, that is a weapon against free speech and dissent," the motion read.

August 24, 2020 - 12:57pm

Solicitor General Jose Calida asks the Supreme Court to cancel the oral arguments on the petitions against the anti-terrorism law.

Calida cites logistical restrictions and health threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that oral arguments would entail the presence of members of the Court, at least 300 petitioners and their counsels, 16 OSG lawyers and support staff.

"Further, the sheer number of participants will make it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain social distancing within the En Banc Session Hall. In this regard alone, even puttig the matter of the age and health vulnerabilities of some of the participants aside, it is submitted that their physical presence for in-court oral arguments is inadvisable," Calida says in his urgent motion.

August 3, 2020 - 2:47pm

It is not the intention of the anti-terror bill to regulate social media, says Rep. Ruffy Biazon (Muntinlupa), co-author of the anti-terrorism bill that is now a law, on Twitter.

Biazon is reacting to a statement from the military that what it calls a "very, very good law" that is "comprehensive" be applied to social media.

The controversial Anti-Terrorism Law is now being challenged by more than a dozen petitioners at the Supreme Court as it is seen to have vague provisions allowing abuses against rights to free speech, due process and privacy.

July 24, 2020 - 9:47am

SAKA (Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo) holds "Traffic Jam", a mobile gig in protest of the anti-terrorism law on Friday morning.

Performers will play at six stops across Quezon City and Marikina starting in UP Area 2 and ending in front of the ABS-CBN compound.

"Among the performers are punk band The Exsenadors, folk-rock outfit Pinkmen, electronic artists Comrade Jones and Escuri, and the hip-hop musicians of Ogg," SAKA says in an advisory.

"Also playing is the Barangay Pesante Combo, made up of activists from SAKA, Sining na Naglilingkod sa Bayan (Sinagbayan), Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), and National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates - Youth (NNARA-Youth), led by musician Alyana Cabral."

The mobile gig follows a series of "protest busking sessions" by Shirebound and Busking and the BP Combo last week.

Photo: SAKA release

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