The Supreme Court (SC) held online on Tuesday afternoon, May 4, its sixth oral arguments on 37 petitions against the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020.
SC justices continued their interpellations of the lawyers of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), the government’s law firm which sought the dismissal of all the petitions.
Questions by justices dealt mainly on whether the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), in writing, can authorize law enforcement agencies and the military to arrest a person suspected of committing terrorism even without a court order; whether an arrested person can be detained for more than three days to a maximum of 24 days; whether the council can designate a person or groups of persons as terrorists or engaged in terrorism; and whether other crimes like homicide and murder are absorbed in the crime of terrorism, among other issues.
The issue on “red-tagging,” which many sectors believed emanated from the enforcement of ATA, was brought up by Associate Justice Ricardo R. Rosario.
Justice Rosario noted that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) recently red-tagged the organizer of Maginhawa community pantry Patricia Non without sufficient evidence.
“How will the government ensure that the ATA will unduly and unlawfully identify any person as a suspect of terrorism merely on the basis of suspicion?” Rosario asked.
“Does this incident support the petitioners’ allegation of future surveillance and red tagging?” he added.
In her reply, Assistant Solicitor General Marissa dela Cruz Galandines said the government is not involved in red-tagging and that the term was coined by the leftist.
“The government is firm that what it does, and the submission of the government is that what it does is truth tagging and not red-tagging,” Galandines said.
Associate Justice Jhosep Y. Lopez zeroed in on the arrest of persons based on authority issued by the ATC.
“Suspected? Does this mean the quantum of evidence enough to take a person into custody is only based in suspicion and not on probable cause as required under Rule 113 on warrantless arrest?” Justice Lopez asked.
Galandines said the written order from the ATC would only be for the continued detention of the suspect who was arrested following a valid warrant of arrest.
“We did look into the intent and it was very clear from the interpellation of Senator Panfilo Lacson [proponent of the law] that the intention of the law was for the ATC to issue a written order for the continued detention and not the issuance of an arrest order,” she explained.
Justice Lopez also asked on the power of the ATC to authorize the detention of suspected terrorists for as long as 24 days.
He noted that Article 7, Section 18 of the Constitution limits the period of detention without filing any charges to only three days and only in two conditions – suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and in cases of rebellion and invasion when public safety requires.
“What makes you think that under ordinary times, you can detain a person to as many as 24 days when the constitution limits it to three days only at maximum during suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus?” he asked.
He pointed out that “under extraordinary circumstances the maximum is only three days and yet under ordinary times like what we are having right now, no emergency, no rebellion or anything, no invasion, and yet the maximum period of detention is 24 days.”
Galadines said that Section 18, Article 7 of the Constitution came about because of fear that Martial Law will again be proclaimed by a sitting President.
“This is actually an answer, to the fear brought about by the previous government prior to the presidency of [the late] President Corazon Aquino,” she noted.
She pointed out that terrorism has evolved from 1987 to the present.
After a little over three hours of interpellations, Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo adjourned the oral arguments and ordered the resumption on Tuesday, May 11, also online via video conferencing.