The Supreme Court on Monday decided to discontinue the testimony of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon after he earlier linked several groups with the terrorist Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army during last week’s oral argument on the 37 petitions challenging the constitutionality of Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
During the last day of the oral arguments on the petitions against anti-terrorism law, Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo said the high court would instead issue a resolution detailing the specific questions that the justices would like Esperon to answer.
According to the top magistrate, Esperon’s response to the questions would have to be incorporated in the memorandum that would be submitted by the Office of the Solicitor within 30 days upon issuance of the resolution.
The tribunal made the decision following the filing of a motion by several petitioners seeking to expunge the testimony of Esperon and to delete from its records of the controversial videos that Esperon presented to the justices during oral arguments last Wednesday.
“With regards (sic) to motion to expunge testimony, video presentation and annotations of respondent Hermogenes Esperon… the Court resolves to require respondent to comment,” Gesmundo ordered.
“The Court also decided not to continue the interpellation of Secretary Esperon based on the compliance that they have submitted earlier,” the top magistrate said.
On the other hand, Gesmundo said the SC agreed to issue a show cause order to Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) lawyer and one of the counsel-petitioners Theodore Te for his statement posted in social media castigating the Court for allowing Esperon to red-tag several groups in open session last week.
During the court proceedings, Esperon played a two-minute video of self-exiled CPP founder Jose Maria Sison wherein the latter can be heard mentioning the names of 18 organizations whom the latter called "allied organizations ."
He also played a 1987 video of Sison supposedly naming the legal organizations in the supposed National Democratic Revolution.
Esperon disclosed that about 75 organizations such as the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Anakbayan, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Gabriela and several others were present in a meeting presided by Sison in Hongkong in 2020.
These groups are part of the so-called International League of People’s Struggles which meets every year, Esperon said.
In its motion, the petitioners argued that Esperon should not have been allowed to testify since the SC is not a “trier of facts.”
In doing so, the petitioners said the Court provided Esperon the opportunity to openly red-tagged progressive groups, which is one the main issues raised in the petitions.
Meanwhile, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno and former SC Associate Justice and ex-Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, gave contrasting opinions on the issues raised against the ATA.
Both Puno and Jardeleza were designated by the Court as amici curiae (friends of the court) to give their impartial and expert opinion on the matter.
In his position paper submitted to the Court, Puno called on the SC to strike a balance between the protection of rights guaranteed under the 1987 Constitution and national security in resolving the 37 petitions seeking to declare the ATA of 2021 as unconstitutional.
“Your Honors, we are to seek the right balance between individual liberty and national security. This is not a case of all or nothing matter but a matter of more or less,” Puno told the SC magistrates.
“The balance should not reduce individual rights into insignificance for they are inherent to human dignity. Neither should the balance put an end to the security of the people for they did not enter into a ‘suicide pact’ when they ratified the Constitution. The ideal is for us to be both free and safe,” Puno stressed.
The retired Chief Justice admitted that there were provisions in the ATA that he considered as a matter of “constitutional concern,” particularly in the process of designation of terrorists.
The retired Chief Justice also raised the possibility of violation of existing rights of arrested persons with the implementation of Section29 of the ATC which authorizes in writing law enforcers to take custody suspected terrorists and detain them for a period of 14 days which can be extended for a maximum of 10 more days depending on several conditions.
For his part, Jardeleza took the position that the petitions against ATA should be dismissed on the grounds of lack of legal standing and that the Court is not a trier of facts.
“While a case for ‘pre-enforcement review’ of a criminal statute is possible, the same is allowed solely on grounds of vagueness. Since none of the petitioners has sought to avail of this exception, I humbly submit that …37 petitions should be dismissed,” Jardeleza stressed.
The former SC magistrate said that cases presenting factual issues, such as the alleged torture of petitioners Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, should be tried first under the doctrine of hierarchy of courts – before the lower court first, then the Court of Appeals.
Guru and Ramos, both Aetas, were charged with non-bailable offenses of illegal possession of firearms and explosives and for violation of the provision of the ATA. before the Regional Trial Court of Olongapo City last September.
Gurung and Ramos and two other female Aetas are accused of being members of the communist New People’s Army.