Two “amici curiae” or “friends of the court” aired on Monday, May 17, opposing views on how the Supreme Court (SC) should deal with the 37 petitions that challenged the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).
Former Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno said the SC should resolve the petitions by striking a balance between the protection of individual rights and the necessities of national security.
Retired Associate Justice Francis H. Jardeleza, on the other hand, said all the petitions should be dismissed because the SC is not a trier of facts and the existing cases involving ATA violations filed before the trial courts should first be resolved by the judges.
Puno and Jardeleza were appointed by the SC as “friends of the court” to enlighten the High Tribunal on ATA and the petitions filed against the new law that was enforced by the government starting July 18, 2020.
After Puno and Jardeleza have aired their views, Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo declared the ninth session of oral arguments terminated.
He said all the petitioners, based on their clustering on issues tackled in the oral arguments, and the government – through the Office of the Solicitor General – are given 30 days from receipt of the resolution to file their respective memoranda.
Gesmundo said the SC will issue a resolution that would spell out the issues to be tackled in the memorandum of the parties.
Puno told the SC:
“How to move the balance between individual rights and national security in the light of threats of terrorism will not be a walk in the park. The new balance should take into account the architecture of the our democratic government laid down in our Constitution, its pillars of separation of powers, checks and balances, inviolability of fundamental rights, the rule of law, the right of the minority against the tyrannicide of the majority, etc.
“At the moment, the point of the balance may remain an incertitude. In due time, however, I have no doubt that given its collective wisdom, the Court can capture all the fugitive ideas necessary to fix the point of the needle that will correctly balance the needs of individual rights and the necessities of national security.
“The balance should not reduce individual rights into insignificance for they are inherent to human dignity. Neither should be balance put an end to the security of the people for they did not enter into a ‘suicide pact’ when they ratified the Constitution.
“The ideal is for us to be both free and safe.”
In supporting his view to dismiss all the petitions, Jardeleza told the SC that none of the petitioners “has claimed direct, personal, or constitutional injury, or has alleged actual prosecution under the ATA. as to be entitled to relief.”
“Cases presenting factual issues, such as the veracity of the allegations of torture of petitioners Gurung and Ramos (two Aeta tribesmen who were arrested and charged with ATA violations before the regional trial court), must first be tried, under the doctrine of hierarchy of courts, and following the rules of evidence, before the trial courts, and then on appeal, by the Court of Appeals,” Jardeleza said.
He pointed out that “petitioners cannot short-circuit this process by simply invoking the ‘transcendental or paramount’ importance of their case.”
He also said:
“For the complete avoidance of doubt, the issues raised by petitioners against the ATA are important. The ATA indeed implicates civil liberties dear to all of us.
“There is, however, an absolute dearth of facts in the case record, as of the moment, to support a ruling against the ATA, at this time.
“The ATA is an act of Congress that enjoys the presumption of constitutionality. I stress the word presumptively. For when, and if, constitutional lines are crossed, as borne out by facts, we know where the Court’s heart lies.
“My point: Judges of the RTC (regional trial court) and Justices of the Court of Appeals are not only equipped to receive and ascertain the facts for this Court, they also, in their own right, make constitutional law. I think it is time we start hearing from them by giving them the first crack at cases such as these.”