Government lawyers have asked the Supreme Court (SC) until April 23 to file their comment or opposition to the reiterative pleadings for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) that would stop the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).
Based on its own submission to the SC, the government’s comment or opposition to the reiterative pleas for TRO, to be filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), was due last March 24.
ATA was enacted on July 3, 2020 and implemented 15 days later last July 18. Thirty-seven petitions have been filed challenging the constitutionality of the new law.
Led by Solicitor General Jose C. Calida, the state lawyers – in a pleading filed last March 23 — told the SC that the OSG “is still coordinating with the respondents (Office of the President and Congress, among others), some of which also need more time to address fully the OSG’s inquiries as well as the allegations of petitioners.”
Last Feb. 2, the SC started conducting oral arguments on the 37 petitions. Since then, only the petitioners have presented their arguments.
The oral arguments are expected to resume on April 6 based on the announcement issued by the SC. The legal debates, which are being done physically inside the SC’s session hall, have been cancelled for four times as measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Several personnel of SC and OSG have been infected with COVID-19.
When the March 23 oral arguments were cancelled and reset to April 6, the SC had 33 active cases of COVID-19 infections among employees in its offices on Padre Faura Street in Ermita, Manila.
The side of the government will be presented when the oral arguments resume April 6. The OSG, representing the government, is expected to press the SC to dismiss the 37 petitions which all sought the declaration of ATA, under Republic Act No. 11479, unconstitutional in its entirety.
Last Monday, March 29, several petitioners again pleaded the SC to issue a TRO against ATA.
They claimed that the alleged life-threatening acts of intelligence gathering and profiling reportedly done by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) against the Confederation for Unity Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) placed their members in “grievous consequences.”
They told the SC of a memorandum which reportedly stated that the DILG participated in an undisclosed and confidential meeting and part of the discussion was on the alleged infiltration of known communist terrorist group (CTG), such as COURAGE and ACT, in government agencies.
It was alleged that the memorandum directed DILG regional directors to investigate and validate if there are employees who are COURAGE members.
“The DILG memorandum is undeniable proof that the affiliate unions, federations and associations of COURAGE and ACT, as well as their individual members and officers, are among the targets of the government’s vicious crackdown on dissent and activism under the Anti-Terrorism Act,” the petitioners and lawyers said.
They pointed out that by declaring in the memorandum that the legitimate organizations of COURAGE and ACT as CTG “front organizations” is a “prima facie act of designation…, and under the ATA, this can trigger grievous consequences to the concerned persons and organizations’ rights and liberties.”
Last February, several petitioners pressed for the issuance of a TRO against ATA.
They cited several recent incidents where, they claimed, the police or the military arrested persons, some of them petitioners in the 37 cases against ATA.
Among these incidents, they said, was the police arrest of Chad Errol Booc, a volunteer teacher, and Windel Bolinget, chair of the Cordillera People’s Alliance which is one of the ATA petitioners, at the retreat house of the University of San Carlos in Cebu City for allegedly “recruiting and exploiting minors to be trained as child warriors.”
However, they said, an investigation conducted by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) found “no evidence” of indoctrination to join the communist movement as confirmed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
They also cited the threat aired by Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. against online journalist Tetch Torres Tupas for her article on two Aeta tribesmen who were arrested and charged, among others, with violations of ATA. Parlade has apologized to Ms. Tupas, thereafter.
The alleged threats to label ATA petitioners as supporters of terrorists have also been aired by petitioners Antonio T. Carpio and Conchita Carpio Morales, both retired SC justices, they said.
They also pointed out that continuous red-tagging of activists, even advocacy lawyers, by the military and the police.
In reiterating their plea for a TRO, the petitioners said ATA violates at least 15 fundamental rights of the people — on speech and expression, religion, assembly, association, unreasonable searches and seizures, travel, bail, innocence, information, torture, among others.