The Supreme Court on Friday received three more petitions filed by leaders from various churches, a coalition of women’s organizations, and a lawyers’ group seeking to strike down Republic Act No. 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 or ATA, for being unconstitutional.
The petitioners also asked the high court to issue a temporary restraining order against the law that took effect on July 18.
The new petitions brought the total number of petitions against the ATA to 19 as of July 24. President Rodrigo Duterte signed the ATA into law on July 3.
The new petitions were filed even as Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Friday expressed hope that the high court would resolve the legal challenges on the validity of the ATA on the merits of the suits and not on the personalities behind the petitions.
“All these petitions, no matter how many they are, will boil down to a common set of constitutional issues,” Guevarra told reporters.
“The Supreme Court will resolve these issues on the merits of the arguments advanced by the parties concerned, and not on the basis of their number or personal or professional stature.”
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., meanwhile, praised the arrest of the fugitive Felomino Salazar Jr. on 15 counts of murder in connection with his alleged role as an executioner during the internal purges conducted by the communist New People’s Army.
Salazar, then executive committee member of the NPA’s Southern Leyte Front, was arrested by the members of the Joint Task Force “Tandaya” over his alleged involvement in the bloody NPA purge “Oplan Venereal Disease,” in which 300 residents of Leyte were said to have been murdered by the NPA in its internal cleansing operations.
First to file the new petitions on Friday was the Alternative Law Groups Inc. or ALG followed by church leaders led by Catholic Bishop Broderick Pabillo.
A women’s group led by the General Assembly of Women for Reforms, Integrity, Equality Leadership and Action Inc. or Gabriela also filed its petition against the ATA.
The ALG said “a law which cannot specify the acts that it prohibits cannot be valid.”
“If such law authorizes patent violations of the people’s fundamental liberties on the basis of its nebulous description of the actions that it seeks to prevent, it must be struck down as a direct transgression of the Constitution.”
Besides Bishop Pabillo, who is the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, the other petitioning church leaders were Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, minister of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines; Rev. Rex Reyes Jr. of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines; Bishop Emergencio Padillo, a member of the UCCP’s Council of Bishops; Most Rev. Gerardo Alminaza, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Carlos City in Negros Occidental; and Aldrin Penamora of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches.
“The Honorable Court must have heard of people active in social advocacies who are accused of being communists. Even bishops, priests and the religious were included among those charged by the Philippine National Police with crimes of sedition and inciting to sedition, and solely because of their social advocacies,” the church leaders said.
“Thousands of people have been killed in police operations on mere suspicions of involvement in criminality and illegal drugs.
“The chilling effect of the recent extreme measures is now being suffered: the killings that have happened during the pandemic, the mass arrest of people freely exercising their opinions in the guise of violating physical distancing regulations, the apparent singling out of a broadcast network for personal piques, among others.”
Named respondents in their petitions were the President, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the Senate, the House of Representatives and the head of the Anti-Terrorism Council.
The 16 petitions against the ATA were filed earlier by the group of lawyer Howard Calleja and former education secretary Armin Luistro, Rep. Edcel Lagman, the group of Law Dean Mel Sta. Maria and several professors of the Far Eastern University, the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives led by Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, former head of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel Rudolph Philip Jurado, two labor groups represented by the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights and the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center; the group of former members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission Christian Monsod and Felicitas Aquino and their group from the Ateneo Human Rights Center, the Party-List organization Sanlakas, several labor groups led by the Federation of Free Workers, Jose Ferrer Jr., the group of cause-oriented and advocacy organizations led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, the group of former high court Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio Morales; the group of Maaria Ceres Doyo and former Constitutional Commission members Florangel Rosario Braid and Professor Edmundo Garcia; the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines; the Kabataang Tagapagtanggol ng Karapatan and the group of Algamar Latiph.