SolGen to Supreme Court: Exercise utmost caution, junk TRO plea vs. anti-terrorism law

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 18) — The government’s top lawyer is urging the Supreme Court to junk the petitions seeking a temporary restraining order against the Anti-Terrorism Act, whose constitutionality is being questioned.

In a 223-page comment filed on Friday, Solicitor General Jose Calida reminded the high court that the judiciary “must exercise utmost caution, prudence and judiciousness in the issuance of temporary restraining orders and injunctive writs.”

“The writ should not be granted lightly or precipitately, but only when the court is fully satisfied that the law permits it and the emergency demands it,” Calida said.

He argued that all the eight consolidated petitions against the newly-signed anti-terrorism law failed to prove that its implementation would cause “grave and irreparable injury” to the petitioners’ constitutional rights.

Calida said it is the public who would be at risk from terrorist attacks if the law is not enforced.

Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 took effect on Saturday, according to the Department of Justice, even as some law experts argued that the start date should be July 22, or 15 days after the measure was published in a newspaper and not just the online Official Gazette.

The implementing rules and regulations "will come in 90 days," National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. told CNN Philippines, adding that the Anti-Terrorism Council has started working on it.

On warrantless arrest and detention

Among the hotly contested provisions is Section 29, which extends the time suspected terrorists can be arrested and detained without warrant, from three days under the previous law, to up to 24 days.

READ: 3-day detention period for suspected terrorists more than enough, solon argues

Calida stressed that although the term “suspected” was used in the law, it is “not a license to arrest any person based on mere suspicion.”

“Contrary to petitioners’ interpretation, therefore, the use of ‘suspected’ in Section 29 does not at all signify an abandonment of probable cause as threshold in warrantless arrest under Section 5(b), Rule 113 of the Revised Rules of Court,” Calida said.

He further argued that “there is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits a period of detention longer than three days.”

“What the law does not prohibit, it allows,” he said.

Guarding against abuse

The Anti-Terrorism Act has been a target of local and international criticism, as experts say it relaxes safeguards on human rights and is open to abuse. Administration officials, as well as lawmakers who authored and sponsored the measure, deny the alleged unconstitutionality of the law.

One of them is Senator Panfilo Lacson who said in a statement on Saturday that he will “go the extra mile in guarding against possible abuse in its implementation.”

“Now that the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is in effect, the Filipino people are assured of a law that allows the Philippines to mount the needed strong response against the threat of terrorism,” said Lacson, a former national police chief.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier defended the measure, saying it will not be used against law-abiding citizens, but stressed that communist rebels should be considered as terrorists because "I finally declared them to be one."

Lacson said this may be a "personal opinion" of the President, but the government’s petition to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, as terrorists will have to be tried and approved by the Court of Appeals.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.