SC wraps up anti-terrorism debates: No halt order, but with order for petitioner to explain tweets

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
SC wraps up anti-terrorism debates: No halt order, but with order for petitioner to explain tweets
On July 23, 2020, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, together with other media workers; members of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, led by their chairman Neil Doloricon and chairman emeritus and National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, artists and cultural workers filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition before the Supreme Court against Republic Act 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Facebook release

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court on Monday wrapped up the oral arguments on the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 without issuing a temporary restraining order on the law facing 37 petitions, but with an order to explain to a petitioner to explain his tweets commenting on the proceedings.

On the last setting of debates, the SC moved to cancel National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.’s appearance and instead moved to have the military official answer the justices’ questions in writing.

This was after the SC held a special en banc session on Monday after petitioners on Friday filed an omnibus motion urging the tribunal to expunge from its records Esperon’s oral statements and video presentation on the May 12 setting of debates where he red-tagged several progressive groups, including petitioners. 

Petitioners pointed out that Esperon’s video presentation was not even authenticated, nor it responded to issues pending before the court. They told the SC: “[T]he supreme irony is that Secretary Esperon was able to engage in red-tagging before this very Court, when red-tagging was one of the grave dangers that impelled petitioners to come to this Court in the first place.”

Petitioner and counsel Theodore Te, in now-deleted tweets, noted that red-tagging was allowed in open session during Esperon’s video presentation. He added that the Court “could have previewed the videos first for relevance and also for authenticity, and then made a determination if it should be played in open session with annotation.”

Te’s tweets, which he deleted within hours, earned him a show cause order from the SC en banc. The SC had earlier reminded petitioners to refrain from discussing merits of the case in public, citing the sub judice rule.

“The Court also resolved that a show cause order be issued to Atty. Ted Te for his statement post-hearing last time which was posted in the social media,” Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo said.

On the petitioners’ motion assailing Esperon’s statements, the SC moved to resolve the pleading after Esperon responds on the omnibus motion.

“The Court resolved to require the respondent to comment. The court also decided not to continue the interpellation of Secretary Esperon based on the compliance they submitted earlier,” the chief justice also said.

Parties, meanwhile, are given 30 days upon receipt, via email, of the SC’s resolution on the memoranda they will respectively file. The petitioners’ memorandum will follow the clustering of topics designated before the debates.

RELATED: Jardeleza tells SC: Dismiss pleas vs anti-terrorism law due to petitioners' lack of legal standing

Where is the halt order?

The SC has terminated the oral arguments on the petitioners without resolving the petitioners’ plea for the issuance of the temporary restraining order against the implementation of the law.

In the course of the more than three months of debates in open courts, petitioners have repeatedly moved to ask the SC to temporarily stop the law’s enforcement citing supervening events that show the dangers of the law.

On February 23, more than 20 petitioners filed a fresh plea for a temporary restraining order, citing continued red-tagging and arrests of petitioners, scrapping of the Department of National Defense and University of the Philippines accord, and continued prosecution and detention of two Aeta farmers under the law.

But the SC said it would wait for the comment of Solicitor General Jose Calida, who repeatedly moved for the extension of period of filing, before it resolves the petitioners’ motion.

In the time between the petitioners' filing on February 23 to the date, counsel to petitioners Angelo Karlo Guillen was attacked and petitioners have also raised alleged intelligence-gathering and profiling of lawyers for "communist terrorist groups" as well as members of Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT).

The Anti-Terrorism Council had also designated dozens of individuals, including 19 supposed central committee members of the CPP, as terrorists, opening their bank accounts to a freeze order.

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