Leonen quizzes petitioners on running immediately to SC to assail anti-terrorism law

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Leonen quizzes petitioners on running immediately to SC to assail anti-terrorism law
Protesters wearing face masks and face shield against Covid-19, hold an anti-terror law banner during a protest outside the supreme court in Manila on February 2, 2021, as the tribunal prepares to hear a case asking the court to declare the law as unconstitutional.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — Citing the Anti-Terrorism Act’s effects on freedom of expression, petitioners mounted a facial challenge against the law, with the first legal challenge against lodged less than 24 hours since the Palace’s announcement of its signing.

During the first day of oral arguments on the anti-terrorism law, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen however questioned whether they were right to knock on the gates of the high court immediately when they have yet to suffer a direct injury under the assailed law.

“There is this case about the Aetas… Isn’t that the actual case?” Leonen asked University of the Philippines Constitutional law professor John Molo, one of the seven lawyers of the petitioners' legal team.

FOLLOW: LIVE: Oral arguments on petitions vs the anti-terrorism law

The justice was referring to the case of Aeta farmers Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos who are currently detained for violation of the anti-terrorism law. They were arrested on Aug. 21, 2020.

The two, represented by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, had asked the SC to allow them to join the petitions only on Tuesday morning, hours before the oral arguments. The SC has also yet to rule on their plea.

“The Aetas were charged with provisions of terrorism, provisions that are found under RA 111479 isn't that the actual case? Isn't that the perfect case that will delimit the actual challenge to clear provisions in the challenge to clear provisions in the constitution based upon clear facts,” Leonen said.

READ: Two Aeta farmers, 'first casualties' of anti-terrorism law, seek to join legal fight in SC

The justice pressed: “Isn’t it the role of the Judiciary to give a chance to the political department to be able to address the harm they wish to address before we come out immediately on a theoretical point to annul that provision?”

But Molo asserted: “Your honor, my humble submission is that deference, judicial restraint, ends where the Bill of Rights begins.”

Legal standing

Even with more than 30 other legal challenges were later filed, Solicitor General Jose Calida, in his submissions to the SC defending the law, said all petitioners’ invocation of imminent danger without direct injury and personal stake does not justify their lack of legal standing.

Calida, in his supplemental comment, also said failure to comply with the doctrine of hierarchy of courts may cause the dismissal of the petition.

The petitioners had brought to the SC the rampant red-tagging in the country where activists and critics have been labelled as communists or terrorists, as well as history of prejudice Moros and indigenous peoples suffered that they said, put them at risk of possible abuse of the law.

Leonen said many SC justices, including him, understand the fear of the petitioners, noting that he too experienced them when he was a public interest lawyer.

“But with the hat now of a justice of this court, and with this judiciary, I think it is correct for us to assume that we should be careful not to become a political department. Is that not correct,” he asked Molo, who answered in the affirmative.

Leonen recalled the March 2019 case of Gios Samar where the SC has stressed the hierarchy of courts, which guides litigants as to the proper venue of appeals and/or the appropriate forum for the issuance of extraordinary writs.” He also mentioned the petition filed by lawyer Jesus Falcis on same-sex marriage where the SC, with Leonen as ponente, junked the plea as it presented “no case.”

The justice went on: “Should we not wait until there is a clear case perhaps there can be a petition filed on those that are red-tagged? And perhaps the facts should be very clear, go to a regional trial court first so that the regional trial court can weigh in by doing counsel? Can regional trial courts declare unconstitutionality of provision?”

But Molo asserted that the SC can step in their case. “Your honor there is already a clear conflict. There are two dimensions in this case, the civil liberties dimension which can be met by a facial challenge even within the parameters of Gios Samar and Southern Hemisphere.”

He added: “The operative fact in a facial challenge is the passage of the law," 

Leonen’s interpellation may continue next week, as the SC is set to resume the oral arguments on February 9.

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 22, 2022 - 8:18am

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 

June 22, 2022 - 8:18am

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon moves to block access to several websites, including news sites of alternative news orrganizations Bulatlat.com and Pinoyweekly.org.

In his letter to the National Telecommunications Commission, he only says the websites are "affiliated to and are supporting these terrorists and terrorist organizations."

No other basis to back up his allegation was cited in the letter.

December 12, 2021 - 1:10pm

The Commission on Human Rights says it "partly welcomes" the Supreme Court decision that some parts of the controversial Anti-terrorism Law are unconstitutional.

CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia says the commission remains hopeful that the remaining contentious provisions of the law will be clarified by the high cour in the full text of the decision.

"At the same time, our commitment remains in guarding against possible human rights violations arising from the implementation of the anti-terror law. We steadfastly remind the government that countering terrorism and protecting human rights are not competing values but are, in fact, mutual and complementary," De Guia says in a statement.

December 7, 2021 - 7:10pm

The Supreme Court has deliberated and voted on the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act but the decision will be released "at the soonest time possible."

"However, considering that there were numerous issues resolved in the case, as well as the fact that each Justice had to vote on each issue, there is a need to accurately confirm and tally the vote of each Justice in order to ensure the correct resolution of the Court per issue," SC spokesperson Brian Hosaka says.

July 19, 2021 - 8:33am

The Anti-Terrorism Council designates the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the panel that negotiates for communist rebels during peace talks a terrorist organization.

Previous designation of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People's Army led to the designation of supposed members of the CPP's Central Committee. Among those designated as terorrists were peace consultants.

Designation gives the Anti-Terrorism Council the authority to investigate and freeze the accounts of designated persons.

May 13, 2021 - 9:06am

The Anti-Terrorism Council has designated 29 people, including alleged members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army, as terrorists in two resolutions.

Designation allows the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze the assets of those on the list. 


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