Don’t discuss case in media, SC asks anti-terror act petitioners

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    CHIEF Justice Diosdado Peralta yesterday warned parties in the 37 petitions challenging the constitutionality of Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 to refrain from discussing the merits of the case in the media.

    Peralta issued the warning at the end of the second round of the oral arguments on the controversial measure, during which justices continued their interpellation of the petitioners.

    “We have seen lawyers being interviewed in television stations and even in social media discussing the merits of this case or these cases and also discussing their respective positions. Now we would like to ask the lawyers to please refrain from being interviewed while these cases are pending resolution,” Peralta said.

    “You know the effect when one goes into the media and discusses his position, it might affect the outcome of these cases, so please refrain, we don’t like to use our coercive power in disciplining lawyers,” he added.

    The chief justice declined to name the lawyers he was referring to.
    The third round of the oral argument will be held on February 16 with the justices set to finish their interpellation of the petitioners.

    At next week’s proceedings, the justices will hear the position of their former colleague, retired Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, who has been invited as “amicus curiae” or friend of the court to share his knowledge on the issues surrounding the controversial measure.

    After Jardeleza, it would now be the turn of Solicitor General Jose Calida to argue the government’s position on the case followed by interpellation.

    During the second round of the oral arguments, Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo told human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno that said RA 11479 is better compared to the EU terrorism law “because here there is a black and white statement that political dissent, that constitutionally-protected rights are excluded as a rule, except if it causes death or serious physical harm.”

    Section 4 of RA 11479 defines terrorism “as engaging in acts intended to cause death or injury, damage to property, or using weapons or dangerous substances to “intimidate the general public or a segment thereof, create an atmosphere or spread a message of fear, to provoke or influence by intimidation the government or any international organization, or seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, economic, or social structures of the country, or create a public emergency or seriously undermine public safety.”

    The petitioners have called this a killer caveat because authorities may claim that a protest action is a threat to public safety, and call it an act of terrorism.

    “The problem of that caveat is that it includes protected speech,” Diokno said. “We can agree that if I exercise a right to protest, even if I have criminal intent, if it did not lead to a criminal action, then it’s protected.”

    Associate Justice Ramon Paul Hernando said other countries in the region have more stringent anti-terrorism law compared to RA 11479.

    He said the anti-terror law in Indonesia allowed authorities to detain a suspected terrorist for two days with extension of up to 120 days.

    RA 11479 allows authorities to detain suspect for an initial 14 days, extendable for 10 more days.

    Associate Justice Marvic Leonen focused his interpellation on the question of whether people detained under anti-terror law still have a resort to a writ of habeas corpus remedy.

    In the first round, Leonen asked whether it is too early for the case to be heard by the SC since there is no actual case yet alleging or claiming a specific injury.

    All the 37 petitions are solely based on the language of RA 11479 and not based on actual violation of its implementation.

    The case of Aetas Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, the first to be indicted under the anti-terrorism law, could have been the first to claim actual injury but the Court en banc dismissed their petition-in-intervention hours before the resumption of the oral arguments yesterday.

    The petitioners have argued that because of RA’s 11479 vague language, habeas corpus plea will just be automatically junked.

    “You’re sure the Supreme Court will dismiss it? You know better than Manila Times the decisions of this Court,” Leonen told Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.