ATA, the most assailed law in memory
In an “ADVISORY,” the Supreme Court set the Oral Arguments on the petitions assailing the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) on Jan. 19, 2021 at two in the afternoon.
A manual count shows that 37 petitions were listed in the advisory by their case numbers (that begin with “G.R. No.”) making the ATA the most assailed law in memory under the 1987 Constitution. Each of them was filed by several petitioners who were invariably represented by more than one set of lawyers.
However, the huge number of petitions is not necessarily commendable. As I wrote on Aug. 16, “While this may demonstrate the wide swath [of people] (political, religious, human rights, law, education, indigenous, etc.) outraged by the law, the petitions’ numerical superiority and, at times, repetitive pleas will ironically delay the resolution of the case…”
My distress about having too many uncoordinated petitions, petitioners, and lawyers has started to happen. While it initially aspired to set the Oral Arguments “in the third week of September,” the Court had to move that deadline four months later because new petitions kept coming in, many of them echoing substantially the same issues and prayers.
In contrast, the respondents are represented by only one lawyer, Solicitor General Jose C. Calida, who was “allowed [by the advisory] to bring with him during the Oral Arguments not more than three (3) lawyers.” A possible addition is super lawyer Estelito P. Mendoza, who applied as amicus curiae and filed a “Comment” favoring the respondents. However, the Court is yet to act on his application and on whether he would be allowed to argue orally.
In the interest of speedy justice, I humbly asked the petitioners’ lawyers in the same Aug. 16 column to “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… [and to choose from among them] the lead lawyers … [while the rest] should set aside their ego and [desire for] media soundbites…”
Unfortunately, this suggestion had been ignored and the Court had to do this chore for them via the said advisory which listed the “essential issues” and directed the counsels “to coordinate with each other and, thereafter, submit to the Court a manifestation stating: (a) the name/s of the presenting lawyer/s on each issue or group of issues; and (b) the time allotted for each lawyer, the total of which should not, however, exceed the time limit [of 30 minutes].”
The issues listed in the advisory are numerous, complicated, and tough. They are divided into six “procedural issues” and 15 “substantive issues.” Needless to say, the “presenting lawyers” are expected to prepare well, to think on their feet, and to face minute scrutiny by the justices.
Nothing irritates the magistrates more than ill-prepared and less than competent counsels who have not mastered the relevant laws and crucial jurisprudence that could help clarify the issues that in this case range from the alleged unconstitutionality of the ATA “in its entirety” to its nitty-gritty provisions.
Especially difficult is the gripping issue (with eight sub-issues) touching on the allegedly excessive and arbitrary powers given to the Anti-Terrorism Council. This requires mastery of the long and short of constitutional law.
Given the many intricate issues (detailed in this paper’s editorial on Nov. 24 titled “Mortal threats to freedom”), I do not expect the Oral Arguments to be finished in one day. Nonetheless, it is my fervent hope that, by their readiness and expertise, the presenting lawyers would illumine, edify, and assist the Court in promulgating a just and speedy decision.
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ERRATA. The ninth paragraph of last Sunday’s piece should have read as follows: “Bongbong claims that if, repeat if, the results in these three provinces are annulled, he would win because Leni’s lead of 278,503 votes would be wiped out. Why? Because the original results in the three provinces—477,985 for Leni and 169,160 for Bongbong—if annulled would show a net advantage for Bongbong of 306,825 which is enough to overcome Leni’s existing lead of 278,503 by a very narrow 30,332 votes.” Also, Negros Occidental in the third paragraph should have read “Negros Oriental.” Apologies. However, the errors did not change the meaning, substance, or context of the column.
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