The Supreme Court is trying to expedite the resolution of the 37 petitions seeking to declare as unconstitutional the controversial Republic Act No. 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta said on Friday.
In a virtual press briefing, Peralta said that the SC is “trying to move fast" in resolving these petitions against the anti-terrorism law, which took effect last July with its implementing rules and regulations adopted and published last week.
The chief magistrate said the high court thought only five petitions would come in, which prompted the SC to initially set the holding of the oral arguments as early September, but more petitions were filed raising different issues after their announcement.
"We are actually moving fast eh. We are trying to move fast because there are so many petitions. Mahirap, kasi it's like this eh, lahat 'yan mag-aargue."
According to Peralta, the magistrates have proposed to the justice-in-charge of the case to determine the issues and lump the common ones together so they could move towards oral arguments.
"When we go back to regular session on November 3, I hope she (justice-in-charge) will already be ready to submit to us the issues to be argued and then set the preliminary conference because we also have to consult," the top magistrate said.
Peralta said he expects his Court En Banc to agree on the date of the oral arguments "before the middle of November."
The Chief Justice admitted that setting up the oral arguments would be hard due to the sheer number of petitioners, their lawyers, and the government's legal defenders.
Peralta said that to limit the number of lawyers during the oral arguments, there was a suggestion for petitioners who raised common issues to appoint one lawyer to argue on their behalf.
"As I said, with 37 petitions, you cannot just imagine, there is even a move to invite amicus curiae," the top magistrate added.
Amici curiae or the so-called "friends of the court" are experts invited by the court to help resolve pending issues.
Former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza earlier asked the SC to appoint him as an amicus curiae in the anti-terror law case, However, retired justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio Morales and other petitioners opposed his motion.
Solicitor General Jose Calida, for his part, had sought for cancellation of the oral arguments, citing COVID-19 risks and logistical issues for such an event amid a pandemic.
Calida, who represents the respondent public officials, is defending the anti-terror law, which is being challenged by its critics for being violative of basic rights, such as the freedom of speech and association.
Aside from Carpio and Carpio-Morales, lawmakers, lawyers, activists, teachers, journalists, artists, youth leaders, and humanitarian workers have asked the SC to strike down the law.
The petitioners asked the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order to enjoin the implementation of the anti-terrorism law.
Despite the assurance that the law does not target activists, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 has become one of the most heavily contested Philippine laws.
With 37 petitions pending before the Supreme Court, this law is now the most highly contested since the Cybercrime Prevention Act.