Schedule of oral arguments on anti-terror law petitions to be set mid-November

The Supreme Court may be able to decide by mid-November on when to schedule oral arguments on the 37 petitions filed against the feared anti-terror law.

"Sa tingin ko (I think that) before the middle of November, we can already agree on the date of the oral arguments," Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta told reporters on Friday, October 23, during the top magistrate's second press conference this year. 

Peralta slightly breaks from the "dignified silence" tradition of the Court by holding press conferences more frequently than his predecessors.

The Supreme Court earlier announced that the oral arguments will happen by the end of September, but Peralta said the sheer number of the petitions made it difficult for the en banc to finalize the date.

"We cannot proceed to an oral argument if we have not yet determined what actually are the issues," said Peralta.

Peralta said that the en banc has agreed that the justice-in-charge would identify common issues in the petitions. Similar petitions will be grouped, and petitioners will choose one representative to the oral arguments.

"Kapag nadetermine ang common issues at sa lahat-lahat na, then conduct a preliminary conference, something like that, and all those lawyers, petitioners who have common issues, they will just appoint one to argue," said Peralta.

(When we're able to determine the common issues of all the petitions, we may conduct a preliminary conference or something like that and all those lawyers and petitioners who have common issues, they will just appoint one to argue.) (READ: During pandemic, Supreme Court favors Duterte twice and makes others wait)

The anti-terror law is one of the most contentious laws in recent history, slammed for its vague provisions on what a terror act is, and its clauses on warrantless arrests and prolonged detentions. Critics say the law will target any form of dissent.

No decision yet on setup

Solicitor General Jose Calida has moved to cancel the oral arguments, citing problems in internet connection and prohibitions on mass gathering. Sources have confirmed this motion was merely noted by the en banc. "Noted" in en banc jargon means there is no action.

Peralta said the en banc is still discussing the setup for the oral arguments. "We will resolve that problem in due time," said Peralta.

The anti-terror law is now in full-swing implementation after the issuance of its implementing rules and regulations (IRR).

Petitioners have pleaded the Court to immediately issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). The anti-terror law has been in effect for 3 months, or since July.

In the case of past contentious laws, the Supreme Court issued a TRO against the cybercrime law within a month of effectivity, and a TRO against the Reproductive Health Law within 3 months of effectivity.

"We are actually moving fast eh. We try to move fast but because there are so many petitions, mahirap kasi (it's hard)," said Peralta.

The en banc is on a two-week decision writing break, and will resume session on November 3,.Peralta said he hopes that by that time, the justice-in-charge has finished the identification of common issues. –

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 or tweet @lianbuan.