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With Due Respect

Fast-tracking the ATA petitions

The Supreme Court signaled its desire to fast-track the petitions assailing the constitutionality of the Anti-Terror Act (ATA) by setting the oral argument on the “third week of September at the earliest,” even as the 27th petition was filed only a few days ago.

Truly, ATA may hold the record of having the most number of “assailants.” While this may demonstrate the wide swath (political, religious, human rights, law, education, indigenous, etc.) outraged by the law, the petition’s numerical superiority and, at times, repetitive pleas will ironically delay the resolution of the case.

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Note that the Court is legally “blind” and weighs the issues on their merits rather than on the number of petitions filed or on the stature/status of the petitioners. In other words, the Court looks at the quality more than the quantity.

The already overburdened justices (see my 1/12/20 column on the Court’s backlog) will have to read more pages and resolve more issues than necessary for a speedy and fair disposition. Consider this:

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At an average of 75 pages per petition, including the annexes, the justices will have to peruse over 2,000 pages (75 x 27 = 2,025). In addition, they also need to read the 223-page “Comment” of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) for the first nine petitions, plus more pages of a new “Comment” the OSG would file on the new petitions.

Additional thousands of pages to read there would be when each group of petitioners files “Replies” to the OSG’s “Comments.” After the oral argument, the parties would have to submit kilometric memoranda summarizing their positions.

Also, the ATA’s Implementing Rules and Regulations or IRRs will soon be promulgated and, predictably, new petitions would also be filed assailing them, which will probably be consolidated by the Court with the present case.

Finally, the Court will have to digest and deliberate on all these, and the chosen ponente will need weeks to write the decision. The summation alone of each of the many petitions will require at least a hundred pages. Surely, some of the justices will write separate opinions that will consume more pages in total.

The bottom line is horrific, wearisome, frustrating delay! I will not be surprised if the Court, despite its speedy mood, will take a few years to finally render its decision. Within those years, some justices, including the Chief Justice, will retire and their replacements will need more time to study the voluminous petitions, comments, replies, and memoranda.

Meanwhile, our people’s attention would be deflected by other crises, especially those arising from the hunger, unemployment, poverty, and unrest that the COVID-19 war will inflict.

To solve or lessen these delays, I scanned my emails and SMS, and found a pragmatic solution sent by famous lawyer Romulo Macalintal—who used to be an assistant of my law partner, Leopoldo L. Africa (now deceased), in our dissolved law firm—proposing that petitioners should unite and request the Court’s permission for them to put together all their petitions into only one united pleading containing all their allegations, issues, and arguments.

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And, if I may add, agreeing who would be the lead lawyers, with the rest acting as associate counsels. After all, the public respondents would be represented by only one law office, the OSG, with only one lead counsel, Solicitor General Jose C. Calida.

The petitioners and their lawyers should set aside their ego and media soundbites, forgetting who was first or last to file their pleadings, or who had raised the more cogent arguments, and choosing those who have the tested ingenuity and experience to lead them in this crucial legal combat.

Parenthetically, to the best of my recollection, the longest decision in the Court’s history is the controversial 8-6 ponencia of Justice Noel G. Tijam (and the separate opinions) in Republic v Sereno (May 11, 2018) published by the Supreme Court in January 2019 in a heavy hardcover consisting of over 1,000 pages.

Unless the petitioners unite their pleadings and choose their lead lawyers this early, this case may beat that record. Worse, the delay may indeed be horrendous and may paradoxically expose our people to the very perils they feared arising from the ATA’s implementation while this case remains pending needlessly.

More on how to fast-track this important case in future columns.

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TAGS: Anti-Terrorism Act, Artemio V. Panganiban, ATA, IRR, Jose Calida, OSG, Rodrigo Duterte, Supreme Court, With Due Respect
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