Canceling oral arguments on terror law, a disservice to the public, high court told

A protester brings a handmade placard. (Photo by Carlo Manalansan / Bulatlat)

By JONAS ALPASAN
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Progressives and youth leaders questioning the Philippine terror law have asked the Supreme Court to hold oral arguments on probably one of the most challenged laws ever passed.

In a 22-page joint motion electronically filed today, petitioners Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bayan, and Lemuel Gio Fernandez Cayabyab, Sangunniang Kabataan chairperson in the province of Pangasinan, calls on the Supreme Court to deny the urgent motion filed by the Office of the Solicitor General to cancel the oral arguments.

The country’s terror law, they said, “places a shroud of fear over the entire nation as it deters the full and free exercise of fundamental rights and disturbs the balance of powers in government. It is not a measure to counter terrorism; it is in itself a source of terror.”

Early this month, the Office of the Solicitor General has asked the Supreme Court to cancel the oral arguments.

“No one, save its proponents, is safe from the assailed law. Thus, the issues surrounding its validity are matters of public concern of which the public have the right to be informed,” the petition read.

In light of the pandemic, petitioners said the SC can hold oral arguments without compromising health protocols as the high court was able to carry out videoconferencing hearings in areas under lockdown.

“It seems that by refusing to be subjected under public scrutiny, Respondents intend to obscure the law, which operates in the shadows,” the petition read.

Direct injury?

In their joint motion, petitioners said that the controversial terror law “became ripe for judicial review” after it was passed and signed into law as it “infringes upon rights and freedoms and disregards safeguards for the balancing and separation of powers in our republican democracy.”

They also argued that petitioners need not have sustained direct injury from the assailed law as a “facial challenge is an exception to the rule prohibiting third-party standing, which enables any citizen to counter the proverbial ‘chilling effect’ of overbroad and vague penal laws on protected speech.”

Petitioners also reiterated their call to the Supreme Court to issue as Status Quo Ante order or similar measures that will keep the respondents from implementing the provisions of the terror law during the proceeding.

Is the state powerless to suppress terrorism?

Petitioners also belied claims of the Office of the Solicitor General that the government, without this terror law, is “powerless and paralyzed to suppress terrorism.”

The groups said there are criminal laws that already penalize terrorism, such as the Republic Act No. 9372 or the Human Security Act and other provisions indicated in the country’s penal code. The passing of the terror law, they argued, is the government’s attempt to blame the purported gaps in the now repealed Human Security Act for its “failure to suppress alleged acts of terrorism in the country.”

“This hollow fault-finding exposes, rather than covers up, the State’s inept use of the vast intelligence resources and enormous confidential funds that it has been granted to combat terrorism. Certainly, this cannot be allowed at the expense of the people’s rights and liberties,” the petitioners said.

Continuing attacks

In their joint petition, progressives and elected youth leaders called on the Supreme Court to urgently look into the petitions as government officials continue to “lay the political justification for the designation and/or proscription of” not only of petitioners but also their organizations.

They also cited the recent proposal of both the military and police forces to regulate and monitor social media use for counter-terrorism and the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board to regulate content of streaming platform Netflix.

As of this writing, at least 32 groups from various sectors have challenged the constitutionality of the terror law before the Supreme Court. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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