POSTSCRIPT / July 5, 2020 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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ATA ruling as pulpit for peace and unity

THE COMING showdown at the Supreme Court over the Anti-Terrorism Act signed Friday by President Duterte will test not only the constitutionality of the draconian decree but also the capacity of the tribunal to help heal the nation riven by partisanship on top of a pandemic.

The 14 justices in the tribunal are independent little courts but if they want it enough, they could compose a majority decision that would at least ease the divisiveness pulling down the country — while still respecting the law and the facts of the case.

At this critical juncture of our national life, the magistrates must rise above themselves to save their starving, bleeding countrymen for no other reason than that it is the right time to do the right thing for them.

This might betray our naïveté as lay outsiders, but as Filipinos tired of the endless rant and finger-pointing, many of us are hoping that the court could use this ATA case to speak to the nation and help tone down the noise so we can start listening to one another.

The nation being lashed by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic is praying that the tribunal’s verdict will help wash away the mistrust and heal the rift that the Anti-Terrorism Act has driven through some sectors of the population.

While worried about the possible trampling by ATA of our constitutional rights, we are also troubled by reports that as of 4 p.m. yesterday, we had logged 41,830 Covid-19 cases, including 1,290 deaths.

And the numbers keep growing as we grope for a safe way out of the lockdown to stir up enough activity to restart the economy.

Visiting the Supreme Court website, we noted that 11 of the 14 justices, including the Chief Justice, are Duterte appointees. We would like to believe that that is just an accident of time, that the vacancies occurred while Duterte was president.

We keep rereading Article VIII, Section 7 (3) saying: “A Member of the Judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.” Amen. We have to start somewhere our journey of faith in justice.

To us opinion columnists, one threatening ATA section is that part allowing the warrantless arrest of a suspected terrorist and his detention for as long as 24 days without charges. All that is needed is one’s being “suspected” of having terroristic intentions.

This could have a “chilling effect” on those who express critical opinion as a necessary aspect of democratic duty. But with so many things obviously broken in this country, criticism and outright protests would bloom like a thousand flowers in media and elsewhere.

The Supreme Court may want to reassure us citizens by striking down such repressive ATA provisions or qualifying them in a way that would protect our constitutional right of free expression. Never mind the usual riposte that freedom is not absolute. We all know that.

The provision on warrantless arrest is worse than the police license given under martial law, which we had thought was too oppressive but which now comes off as comparatively benign by its requiring that a suspect be released after three days if no charges are filed.

Under the Constitution, martial law may not exceed 60 days. Then the Congress must convene and may, by a majority vote, revoke martial law within 48 hours of its proclamation. In contrast, this new ATA provision on warrantless arrest stays forever unless repealed.

Scores of diverse respected organizations have registered their opposition to the Anti-Terrorism Act (RA 11479) that replaces the 2007 Human Security Act. Please listen to them.

Some of the groups are the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development; Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals; Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations; Filipina CEO Circle; Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines; Institute for Solidarity in Asia Inc.; Institute of Corporate Directors; Investment House Association of the Philippines; Judicial Reform Initiative; Makati Business Club; Management Association of the Philippines; People Management Association of the Philippines; Philippine Business for Education and Shareholders’ Association of the Philippines Inc.

When we said last time, btw, that all but three of the 14 incumbent SC members are Duterte appointees, we received calls and texts asking for details. So we gathered these data for readers who may not have the time to research:

Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, 68, Laoag City, was appointed associate justice on Jan 13, 2009, by then President Arroyo, later as chief justice on Oct 23, 2019, by President Duterte.

Aquino appointees (3) are Estela Perlas-Bernabe, 68, Plaridel, Bulacan, senior associate justice since Sep 16, 2011; Mario Victor F. Leonen, 57, Baguio City, associate justice since Nov 12, 2012; and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, 60, associate justice since Jan. 22, 2016.

Duterte appointees (10) are Alexander Gesmundo, 63, associate justice since Aug. 14, 2017; Jose C. Reyes, 69, Tacloban, Leyte, associate justice since Aug. 10, 2018; Ramon Paul L. Hernando, 53, Tuguegarao, Cagayan, associate Justice since Oct. 10, 2018; Rosmari Carandang, 68, Taal, Batangas, associate justice since Nov. 26, 2018; Amy Lazaro-Javier, 63, associate justice since March 6, 2019; Henri Jean Paul Inting, 62, Bansalan, Davao del Sur, associate justice since May 27, 2019; Rodil Zalameda, 56, Caloocan City, associate justice since Aug. 5, 2019; Mario V. Lopez, 65, La Union, associate justice since Dec. 3, 2019; Edgardo Delos Santos, 68, Palompon, Leyte, associate justice since Dec. 3, 2019; and Samuel H. Gaerlan, 61, La Union, associate justice since Jan. 8, 2020.

The 15th SC seat has been vacant since the retirement of associate justice Andres Bernal Reyes Jr. on May 11, 2020. The President shall appoint a replacement within 90 days of that date.

We were intrigued that the Supreme Court website – also Wikipedia and such sources — did not have the place of birth of justices Caguioa, Gesmundo, and Javier. Will somebody please help us? They must have been born somewhere, in the Philippines we hope.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 5, 2020)

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