SC gags groups vs. terror law or face contempt

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta on Tuesday ordered the 37 group of petitioners and their lawyers who are questioning the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 to stop discussing the merits of the cases before the media to avoid being cited for contempt of court.

Peralta issued the warning towards the end of the second round of the oral arguments on the controversial law, saying Supreme Court justices had seen some lawyers who are involved in the petitions discussing their positions and the merits of the cases in the media.

“Now we would like to ask the lawyers to please refrain from being interviewed while these cases are pending resolution. 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,” Peralta said.

The top magistrate did not name the lawyers.

The third round of the oral arguments would be held next Tuesday, Feb. 16.

According to Peralta, the justices intend to finish the interpellation of the petitioners and hear the position of their former colleague, retired Associate Justice Francis H. Jardeleza, who has been designated as “amicus curiae” or friend of the court for the oral arguments next week.

As a friend of the court, Jardeleza is expected to be asked to share his knowledge and expertise on the issues surrounding the controversial law.

After that, Peralta said the Court will hear the oral arguments of the respondents through the Solicitor General which would be followed with the interpellation of the Court.

At the same time, the Supreme Court junked the petition of two Aetas, who are accused of terrorism, to intervene in the petitions assailing the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

Peralta made the disclosure on Tuesday during the resumption of the oral arguments on the 37 petitions seeking to declare the Anti-Terrorism Law as unconstitutional.

Peralta was impelled to make the announcement of the SC ruling after Solicitor General Jose Calida manifested that the two Aetas had executed an affidavit of desistance seeking to withdraw their petition-in-intervention filed with the high court.

The two Aetas — Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos — alleged that they were tortured and falsely accused of terrorism, among other charges, and filed a petition-in-intervention alleging direct injury at the hands of law enforcers.

Through lawyers, they argued that the definition of terrorism fails to give fair notice to ordinary citizens as to what is lawful and prohibited.

During the resumption of the oral arguments, the solicitor general manifested that the two Aetas have allegedly executed an affidavit of desistance withdrawing their petition because they were only allegedly forced to sign in exchange for P1,000.

Calida even tried to present three videos but Peralta stopped him and instead asked him to explain his point briefly.

Peralta immediately dismissed Calida’s manifestation by informing him that the petition-in-intervention had in fact been unanimously dismissed by the Court.

“If you still want to push through with what you want to manifest to us, I believe you can put that in writing so that the other party can comment later on,” he said.

Lawyer Neri Colmenares of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers objected to Calida’s manifestation.

“We would like to know when they talked to the Aetas? Were there counsels present? Why were we not aware?” Colmenares asked.

Colmenares said the Aetas are currently detained in a PNP camp facing terrorism, murder and other charges.

NUPL denied that “forcing” the two Aetas to sign the petition-in-intervention.

“There was no coercion, force, deceit, misrepresentation, favor or any other act or omission that vitiated the free, prior and informed consent of the Aetas to agree to the filing of the petition-in-intervention,” the NUPL said in a statement.

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