Two Aetas charged under Anti-Terrorism Act blocked from joining petitions

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 9) — The Supreme Court on Tuesday junked the petition of two Aetas to intervene in the legal challenge against the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta said the high court "unanimously denied" the petition of Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, who are the first publicly known individuals to be charged under the anti-terrorism law.

Peralta made this announcement during the second day of the oral arguments on the controversial law after Solicitor General Jose Calida said the Aetas were withdrawing their petition. Calida said the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the Public Attorney's Office are now the new counsel for the Aetas, who were previously represented by the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers.

Calida said Gurung and Ramos were forced to sign the petition against the Anti-Terrorism Act, citing video clips and affidavits he submitted to the Supreme Court.

"Aming inuurong ang petition for intervention na aming napirmahan sa kadahilanang hindi bukal sa aming puso at kapasyahan ang pagpirma," Calida quoted the documents.

[Translation: We are withdrawing the petition for intervention that we signed because we did not sign it out of our own will.]

Calida's manifestation was cut short after Peralta said the Aetas' petition was junked anyway, prompting the resumption of interpellation on petitions seeking to junk the Anti-Terrorism Act. Peralta, however, did not elaborate why the Aetas' petition was dismissed.

In a statement, the NUPL said Gurung and Ramos, who both could not read or write, willingly affixed their thumbmarks to the documents "after the Anti-Terrorism Act, the pending petitions before the Supreme Court, and the final draft Petition in Intervention were discussed to them patiently."

"In fact, it was a long and tedious process that is why the Petition-in-Intervention was only filed in the morning of the Oral arguments on February 2, 2021," the NUPL said. It added that a representative from the notary public also asked them if the document was explained to them before notarizing it.

The lawyers' group also scored the NCIP and PAO for not disclosing their "intercession."

It said it will wait for a copy of the Supreme Court resolution denying the Aetas' petition so NUPL lawyers could address it, along with the government's allegations.

During last week's oral arguments, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said the petition could be the "actual case" that would warrant the high court to take action on the Anti-Terrorism Act.

It became even more controversial after Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, chief of the Southern Luzon Command and spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, attacked on social media one of the justice beat reporters who wrote about the Aetas' petition. He warned Inquirer.net's Tetch Torres-Tupas could be held liable under the law for "aiding the terrorists by spreading lies." Groups pushed back against Parlade's threat, which the military vowed to investigate.

Thirty-seven sets of petitions are urging the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional, arguing mainly that its provisions are vague and overly broad, violating the Bill of Rights.

READ: Anti-terror law oral arguments: Gov’t critics not silenced but there’s ‘pause, hesitation’

The oral arguments will resume on February 16, when Calida and other government lawyers are expected to defend the Anti-Terrorism Act.

The Chief Justice, meanwhile, reminded parties they should refrain from discussing the case in public pending the resolution of the petitions. "Please refrain. We do not like that we'll use our coercive power in disciplining lawyers."