Philippine anti-terrorism law

Anti-terror law petitioners want Esperon out of SC oral arguments

Lian Buan
Anti-terror law petitioners want Esperon out of SC oral arguments

NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER. National Security Adviser Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr vice chairs the National Task Force to End Local Communist Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

Photo by KD Madrilejos/Rappler

Petitioners also move to expunge from court records the national security adviser's testimonies during the May 12 hearing where he red-tagged progressive groups

No more red-tagging in open court.

This was the appeal of anti-terror law petitioners to the Supreme Court in a joint urgent motion filed on Friday, May 14, requesting that National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr is no longer called back to the oral arguments on Monday, May 17.

“Petitioners respectfully pray that [Esperon’s] recall to continue his interpellation on Monday, May 17, 2021, at 2:30 pm be canceled,” the petitioners said in their joint motion.

Esperon is scheduled to be interpellated again on Monday, as the Supreme Court attempts to finish the oral arguments before the Court goes into its writing break. Monday would be the ninth day of the oral arguments that began in February.

During his interpellation on Wednesday, May 12, Esperon was allowed to red-tag progressive groups by playing two videos of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria “Joma” Sison, one from 1987 where the latter mentioned the groups.

Esperon claimed this was proof that the long-established progressive groups are CPP “fronts.” The groups denied the claim, saying that Sison’s speech was merely an acknowledgement of groups involved in the democratic movement.

“The supreme irony is that Secretary Esperon was able to engage in red-tagging before this very Court, when red-tagging was one of the grave dangers that impelled petitioners to come to this Court in the first place,” said the motion.

Esperon is vice chairman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which has been widely criticized for red-tagging groups and personalities.

Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo and Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang had asked the government if McCarthyism was happening in the Philippines today, referring to the US government’s infamous communist witch-hunt in the 1950s. During that time – despite lack of evidence – hundreds of Americans were investigated and publicly shamed as alleged communists or communist sympathizers.

“It is in fact ironic that, when the Court wanted to know if the situation today is reminiscent of McCarthyism, he (Esperon) actually engaged in McCarthyite red-tagging, which is deadly business in the Philippines,” said the motion.

Expunge

The petitioners want Esperon’s entire interpellation last Wednesday to be expunged or stricken off the record, saying that the legitimate organizations didn’t have “the opportunity to rebut his indictments.”

They pointed out that the justices’ purpose of calling Esperon is to question the government’s basis for red-tagging, and how the anti-terror law may aggravate the problem as activists claim.

“Petitioners submit that respondent Esperon’s statements and so-called evidence should be stricken off the record because they are not responsive to the questions posed,” said the motion.

“No one – specially our government officials – should be allowed to use the proceedings of this Court as a platform to engage in acts that are not only anomalous but downright dangerous,” said the motion.

The petitioners asked: If Solicitor General Jose Calida insists that the Supreme Court is not a trier of facts, why is his client, Esperon, allowed “to present so-called evidence on factual matters?”

Part of Calida’s argument to dismiss the petitions is based on a procedural aspect – that petitioners supposedly lacked the legal standing to challenge the law, and that some allegations of threats are factual matters that are not for the SC to try. 

“Esperon presented two self-serving videos whose authenticity was not even previously established pursuant to Section 1, Rule 11 of the Rules on Electronic Evidence,” said the motion.

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Legal standing

The Anti-Terrorism Council has designated Sison and 18 others – many of them peace consultants – as terrorists under one of the most contentious powers of the law.

One of those designated is peace consultant Rey Claro Casambre who is a petitioner. His lawyers from the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) will file a manifestation to the Supreme Court to tell the justices that the designation has just boosted the petitioners’ legal standing.

Legal standing has been a major issue in the oral arguments so far. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.