Calida to face ex-SolGen, 6 others in Anti-Terrorism Act oral arguments

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 13) — The 37 sets of petitioners against the Anti-Terrorism Act have chosen seven lawyers to argue their case at the Supreme Court on January 19, six months after the controversial measure was signed into law.

In a joint manifestation filed Monday and made public Wednesday, the petitioners named former Solicitor General Anselmo Cadiz as among the presenting lawyers.

Cadiz, the top government lawyer during the previous Aquino administration, will face incumbent Solicitor General Jose Calida, who was allowed by the high court to bring up to three legal officers with him.

Calida earlier asked the high court to cancel the oral arguments, citing the coronavirus pandemic, and insisting that it should not be a trier of facts. Whether or not the petitioners' direct resort to the Supreme Court is proper will be among the issues to be discussed by Cadiz.

Human rights lawyer and Free Legal Assistance Group chairman Chel Diokno will join Cadiz, as well as law professor Alfredo Molo III, who served as counsel for the petitioners against lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel, which the high court declared as unconstitutional.

Cadiz, Diokno, and Molo have around five minutes each to defend important issues, including the need for a temporary restraining order or status quo ante order to stop the implementation of the anti-terrorism law, and for the measure to be declared unconstitutional. They will also tackle how vague and overly broad the law’s definition of terrorism is, and how penalizing based on its provisions would violate constitutional rights.

Evalyn Ursua, known for handling cases of gender-based violence against women, has eight minutes to explain how the expansion of the executive Anti-Terrorism Council's powers violates the Constitution. The body recently designated the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing New People's Army as terrorist organizations, prompting the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze assets "related to" these groups.

Former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares will present on the provisions on punishment, surveillance, travel restrictions, and proscription. Officials have explained that designation would not automatically warrant an arrest, while a proscribed individual or group would face tough penalties, as approved by the Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman will argue mainly against the controversial provision that allows suspected terrorists to be arrested without warrant and detained without charges for up to 24 days – as long as the arresting law enforcement agents and military personnel are authorized by the ATC.

Lastly, Moro lawyer Algamar Latiph will discuss the impact on indigenous peoples and torture victims.

The Supreme Court earlier limited the number of lawyers on the petitioners' side to just eight, while allowing other petitioner groups to send one counsel each to physically witness the oral arguments. They were asked to manifest their attendance by January 13 so the high court could make the necessary logistical arrangements amid the COVID-19 crisis.

While the petitioners appointed only seven presenters, they are requesting the Supreme Court to accommodate six alternates: Integrated Bar of the Philippines' Randall Tabayoyong, former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te, Josalee Deinla and Ephraim Cortez from the National Union of People's Lawyers, Calleja Law Firm's Howard Calleja, and Moro lawyer Bantuas Lucman.

The Anti-Terrorism Act is the most challenged law in the Supreme Court's recent history as lawyers and framers of the Constitution, legal experts, and human rights advocates say the unconstitutional measure relaxes safeguards against abuse, something authorities have denied.