Solicitor General Jose Calida filed an urgent 51-page motion requesting to cancel the oral arguments on the Anti-Terror Law last August 24, 2020.
The court justices had earlier planned to hold oral arguments on the numerous petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 on September “at the earliest.” However, Calida claimed before the Supreme Court (SC) that logistical restrictions and the health threats in light of the COVID-19 pandemic prevent this from happening.
“In view of the logistical restrictions and health threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the provisions of the Internal Rules of this Honorable Court and pertinent jurisprudence, respondents respectfully move for the cancellation of, and propose alternatives to, the conduct of oral arguments,” Calida said.
Calida discussed that the requirements in conducting in-court oral arguments would violate the provisions of the General Community Quarantine (GCQ) regarding the prohibitions on mass gatherings because of the volume of people who must be present.
“The conduct of in-court oral arguments would necessarily entail the presence of the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices, at least 300 petitioners and their respective counsels, an estimate of 16 lawyers from the Office of the Solicitor General and their respective support staff, representatives from the respondents, and the members of the Office of the Clerk of Court,” Calida explained.
Calida further said that even virtual oral arguments would still violate mass gathering prohibitions, citing that for the case of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) alone, certain individuals would still have to gather during the proceeding.
“For the OSG alone, this means that at least 25 individuals, including the Solicitor General, at least 7 Assistant Solicitors General, at least 8 solicitors and at least 8 administrative/support staff, and at least 4 I.T. personnel, would have to gather in a limited space during the entire proceeding,” said Calida.
Calida also brought into consideration the restrictions on attendees who are over 60 years old.
“Note, as well, that some of these individuals are over 60 years old, who, according to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), are even required to remain in their residences at all times,” Calida added.
As an alternative to the oral arguments, Calida suggested that the justices submit a memorandum containing their clarificatory questions instead.
The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which repealed the Human Security Act of 2007 on July 18, has been widely opposed by lawmakers and various human rights groups in the country, in fear that the law, with its vague provisions, may be weaponized against progressive groups and used to stifle dissent against the government.
There are currently 29 petitions seeking to declare the Anti-Terror Law as unconstitutional. Among the most contested provisions is its vague definition of terrorism in comparison to the Human Security Act of 2007 which had specified “predicate crimes.” Critics argued that under this, even legitimate gatherings may be read as terrorism.
The OSG had earlier submitted to the SC a 233-page consolidated comment on the petitions filed against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 shortly after it was signed into law, dismissing them for “utter lack of merit” and for having no legal standing. [P]
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