MANILA, Philippines — In defending the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 before the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Jose Calida borrowed words from President Rodrigo Duterte himself: Law-abiding citizens have nothing to be afraid of if they are not terrorists.
Calida presented the government’s opening statement in the resumption of oral arguments on the 37 consolidated petitions against the anti-terrorism law.
After listing down 17 arguments for the dismissal of the complaints, Calida ended his 45-minute statement with Duterte’s words: “For the law-abiding citizen of this country, I am addressing you with all sincerity: Huwag kayo natakot kung hindi ka terorista.”
The argument has been used to justify the measures in the anti-terrorism law despite cases of abuse under its predecessor, the Human Security Act.
Duterte and his men have long been accused of baselessly linking progressive groups and activists to communist rebels, which, in some red-tagging posts, been lumped together as “communist terrorist groups.”
Calida, his solicitor general, also insinuated before SC justices that petitioners Neri Colmenares and party-list groups Gabriela and Bayan Muna are linked to communist rebels.
Red-tagging of petitioners
Calida, in his remarks, said the “government is not the enemy”, implying also that those opposed to the Anti-Terrorism Act are.
He then cited military and police raids where several high powered-firearms, explosives and ammunitions were recovered, supposedly from New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Calida mentioned a raid in Oriental Mindoro and then in Sta. Rosa, Laguna where, the solicitor general said, police also recovered “subversive documents, streamers, campaign paraphernalia of Congressman [Neri] Colmenares, Bayan Muna and Gabriela.”
Calida then went on to cite an April 16 encounter between the Philippine Army and the Abu-Sayaff Group.
The solicitor general added: “Your honors, petitioners have never spoken against the recent atrocities committed by terrorists against our people. If they have never taken a stand against these acts, and if silence is complicity, there can only be one conclusion.”
Gabriela and Bayan Muna party-lists have duly elected representatives at the House of Representatives. Colmenares is Bayan Muna chairperson. They are all petitioners in the case. The Anti-Subversion Law, which sought to punish those who affiliate themselves with the communist party, was repealed in 1992.
In their petitions against the anti-terrorism law, they raised red-tagging of their groups and the fear that the law would given to enforcers unbridled discretion in implementing its broad and overbroad provisions and lead to abuse, targeting critics of the administration.
Colmenares, one of the oralists for the petitioners, said Calida’s “imputation of crime” on them is uncalled for and blatant red-tagging. He made an oral manifestation before the session was adjourned.
The Bayan Muna chairperson said that even if it is true that campaign materials for him were found with firearm — even as he cautioned cautioning that this has to be taken as truth due to allegations of evidence planting—“that does not constitute a crime and therefore the imputation of crime, in the mention of opening statement is uncalled for.”
“I do not see the reason why my name, the name of other candidates, were mentioned there. The respondents may say, oh we’re just stating a fact, we’re not really implicating you in a crime. So what’s the use of mentioning my name? This is red-tagging then in the end,” he added.
He stressed that red-tagging is dangerous and deadly especially to activists. Addressing the SC, Colmenares said: “I would like for the court to consider, in my manifestation, that this should not have been mentioned because for people like us, this is red-tagging and this is dangerous.”
Defective form, no legal standing
In urging the court to dismiss the petitions, Calida also attacked the petitioners’ legal standing in the case and very form of their pleadings.
He told the court the petitions are formally defective for lack of verification and certification of non-forum shopping, failing to state attestations and even failing to number their paragraphs.
Calida also said they lack legal standing. “In these consolidated cases, petitioners invoke their diverse capacities, hoping to justify and establish their legal standing that will merit the consideration of this Honorable Court,” he continued.
The solicitor general pointed out that there now exists parties with direct interests in the issues raised—they are those who are charged with violations of anti-terrorism law, such as the two Aeta farmers.
“Unlike the Aetas who lost their liberty, the Petitioners did not suffer any direct or indirect injury that will vest them with locus standi,” Calida said.
The two Aeta farmers, Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, sought to join the petitioners, but the SC eventually junked their pleading to be counted as party, noting that a criminal case is already pending before a trial court.
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