The implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) will not result in violations of human rights enshrined in the Constitution, government lawyers told the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday afternoon, May 11.
On the seventh session of oral arguments on 37 petitions challenging the constitutionality of ATA, lawyers from the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) said that the government has adopted measures for an efficient enforcement of the law.
Fears of the petitioners and the public on human rights violations were aired by Associate Justices Henri Jean Paul B. Inting and Amy C. Lazaro Javier during their interpellations of OSG lawyers.
Assistant Solicitor General Marissa Dela Cruz Galandines was asked by Justice Inting if top government officials have made public pronouncements on full respect for human rights in the enforcement of the law.
Galandines said that during the past oral arguments Solicitor General Jose C. Calida reiterated President Duterte’s assurance that those who are not involved in terrorism should not worry about ATA.
She then cited the various programs undertaken by the government.
“The ATC (Anti-Terrorism Council) has taken the lead of developing and publishing a handbook for police and military personnel. There is also a continuing rollout of trainings and workshops for law enforcers,” Galandines said.
She stressed that the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) has published on its website a primer of the frequently asked questions about the ATA .
Also, she said, the government has adopted and started implementing a national action plan to curb and counter violent extremism.
Justice Javier, on the other hand, asked Assistant Solicitor General Raymund Rigodon on the fears of several petitioners, some of them former members of SC, due to the “grant of excessive and unchecked powers under the law.”
Rigodon said the fears are “speculative” and pointed out that the possibility of abuse “is not a ground to invalidate the law.”
He then referred to Calida’s opening statement which declared that the government is not the enemy but the terrorists are.
“Without any definite criteria or guide on how to read nature and context, law enforcers may have different ideas as to what constitute terrorism,” she added.
Then she asked Rigodon: “So, what has the government done to ensure that the members of the police and the military will not have varying interpretations and understanding of the ATA?”
Rigodon said that the ATC has released guidelines on the implementation of ATA.
Not satisfied with the answer, Justice Javier said that “considering that law enforcers are non-lawyers and the ATA is such a technical and legal thing, how does the government assure the people and make sure that the understanding is one and the same so that we will avoid the mis-implementation of the ATA?”
Manila Bulletin failed to hear Rigodon’s reply due to some unavoidable distortions on the audio of the live streaming that was facilitated by the SC’s public information office (PIO).
At 5:40 p.m., Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo declared the oral arguments terminated and announced that the legal debates will resume on Wednesday, May 12, starting at 2:30 p.m.
The Chief Justice did not give any reason for Wednesday’s resumption of the hearings that are normally done once a week.
After the justices have finished their interpellations, the SC will call its two “friends of the court” – former Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno and former Associate Justice Francis H. Jardeleza – to air their views on ATA.
It was not known immediately when the oral arguments will be terminated and if the reiterative pleas of the petitioners for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) that could stop immediately the implementation of ATA which started on July 18, 2020 would be taken up.