‘Legal fireworks’ at SC on ATA hearing

Published February 8, 2021, 12:39 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

“Legal fireworks” resume on Tuesday, Feb. 9, at the Supreme Court (SC) on the second day of legal arguments on the 37 petitions that challenged the alleged unconstitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020.

Supreme Court (SC)

Several SC justices are expected to quiz lawyers of petitioners who, during last Tuesday’s first day of legal debates, presented their arguments against the law – the most controversial, so far, in terms of cases filed.

After the petitioners, the government – through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) – is next to present its arguments.

Solicitor General Jose C. Calida had moved for the dismissal of the petitions, even the holding of the oral arguments.

The alleged vagueness in the definition of what constitutes terrorist acts is the hotly contested issue under AT.

But Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra had said the so-called vagueness has been addressed in the law’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) which several agencies, led by the Department of Justice (DOJ), crafted last year.

ATA became a law on July 3, 2020.  The government started implementing it 15 days later last July 18.

Since then, several petitions were filed most of which pleaded for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) that would stop its implementation.

Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta had said the SC will resolve the pleas for TRO once the oral arguments are terminated.

Last week, Peralta said the second day of the oral arguments will start early at 2 p.m. at the SC’s full court session hall.

Only authorized lawyers and their staff are allowed inside the main session hall.  Those waiting for their turn to argue are cloistered in the division session hall where monitors were set up.

Journalists are not allowed inside the session hall.  The SC has set up monitors for them at the lobby.

 As precautionary measures against the corona virus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the SC said non-employees attending the oral arguments, be they in the session hall or at the lobby, are required to “a negative COVID RT-PCR test result taken within seventy-two hours (72) hours prior to the Oral Arguments in order to enter the SC premises.”

“Non-compliance will be refused entry inside the SC, no exceptions,” it said.

Also, the SC said in its guidelines: “Wearing appropriate facemasks (surgical facemask, N95, KN95) and face shields (clear, non-tinted), and practicing social distancing is a must inside the SC.”