SC resumes arguments on ATA petitions

The Supreme Court will resume today its online oral arguments on the 37 petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

Critics have claimed the law encourages state security forces to engage in “red-tagging” and profiling of several persons and groups, including certain organizers of community pantries.

During the resumption of the hearing, SC justices led by Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo are expected to continue their interpelations of Solicitor General Jose Calida and other state lawyers, who represented the public respondents in defending the constitutionality and legality of the anti-terrorism law.

Once the SC finishes its interpelation of the OSG lawyers, the high court will call on its appointed “friends of the court” — retired Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno and then Associate Justice Francis H. Jardeleza – to tackle their views on the controversial law.

Earlier, Calida asked the SC magistrates to dismiss all the 37 petitions due to various reasons that warrants the dismissal of the petitions.

Calida argued that the enactment of ATA is political in nature that cannot be delved into by the courts, that there are supervening events that warrant the dismissal of the petitions, and petitioners do not have legal standing to challenge the law.

The chief state lawyer assured that ATA “is not an instrument of oppression and neither is it a tool to suppress the vibrance of our democracy.”

He stressed that ATA “is the embodiment of the State’s policy to protect life, liberty, and property from terrorism – a commitment to peace in our day and the future of our children.”

Previously, anti-ATA petitioners prodded the SC magistrates to issue a temporary restraining order that would immediately restrain the implementation of the law that started on July 18, 2020.

Last week, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the anti-terror law may have emboldened some officials in the security sector to “red-tag” certain persons and groups.

“There is reason to believe na baka merong (that there might be) linkage somehow,” Guevarra said in a television interview.

Several members of advocacy groups, including organizers of community pantries which dole out food to the needy, have complaint of “red-tagging” by government law enforcement agencies.

Guevarra’s view was aired amidst criticisms against officials of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for their “red-tagging” activities which have reportedly been endangering the lives of persons they are linking to the communist terrorist group.

“There may be some point to the argument because there is a provision in the Anti-Terrorism Law (Republic Act No. 11479) about recruitment and membership in terrorist organizations and punishes those acts accordingly,” Guevarra stressed.

He reminded that RA 1700, the Anti-Subversion Law which was passed in 1957, outlawed the Communist Party of the Philippines. But RA 1700 was repealed in 1992.

After the repeal, he said that it was no longer a crime to join the CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).

“But now, with the Anti-Terrorism Law, recruitment and membership will be punished,” he said.

“Thus, it may be fair to say that the current red-tagging activities is related to this,” he added.

Guevarra had expressed his support to the passage of a law against red-tagging.

“People have raised their voice against it so we might as well have one because the frequency of this act loosely called red-tagging has really become quite disturbing, if I may say,” he stressed.

At the moment, Guevarra explained that those involved in red-tagging can only be charged for other offenses.

Without the law, “complaints may revolve around defamation, coercion, unjust vexation, or violation of privacy laws, but not for an offense called ‘red-tagging,’” he said.

“If they want to prosecute people who do ‘red tagging’ then the appropriate legislation should be passed,” Guevarra added.

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