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Supreme Court 'trying to move fast' on anti-terror law petitions —Chief Justice Peralta

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta said Friday that the Supreme Court (SC) is "trying to move fast" in resolving the dozens of petitions against the anti-terrorism law.

The court has yet to act or schedule oral arguments on the 37 petitions challenging a law that has been in effect since July and whose implementing rules were published last week.

At a press briefing, Peralta said the tribunal thought only five petitions would come in. The court initially said oral arguments could be held as early as September but that more cases raising different issues were filed after their announcement.

He said the magistrates have suggested to the justice who is in charge of the case to determine the issues and lump the common ones together so they could move towards oral arguments.

"When we go back to regular session on November 3, I hope she (member-in-charge) will already be ready to submit to us the issues to be argued and then set the preliminary conference kasi we also have to consult," Peralta said.

He said he thinks the justices could agree on the date of the oral arguments "before the middle of November."

He hinted that arranging oral arguments would be difficult due to the sheer number of petitioners, their lawyers, and the government's legal defenders.

"We are actually moving fast eh. We are trying to move fast but because there are so many petitions, mahirap, kasi it's like this eh, lahat 'yan mag-aargue..." he said.

To limit the number of lawyers, he said there was a suggestion for petitioners who raised common issues to appoint one lawyer to argue on their behalf.

"Sabi ko nga with 37 petitions, you cannot just imagine, there is even a move to invite amicus curiae," he said.

Amici curiae ("friends of the court") are experts invited by the court to help resolve pending issues. Veteran lawyer and Marcos-time solicitor general Estelito Mendoza asked to be an amicus curiae in the anti-terror law case; retired justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio Morales and other petitioners opposed his motion.

Solicitor General Jose Calida has asked the SC to cancel oral arguments, citing COVID-19 risks and logistical issues for such an event amid a pandemic.

Calida is defending the anti-terror law whose critics claim would violate basic rights, such as the freedom of speech and association. Aside from Carpio and Carpio Morales, lawmakers, lawyers, activists, teachers, journalists, artists, youth leaders, and humanitarian workers have asked the SC to strike down the law.

Fearing arrests and prosecution, the petitioners also urged the highest Philippine court to issue a temporary restraining order against the law. None has been issued so far.

Despite reasurrances by administration officials that the law does not target activists, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 has become one of the most heavily contested Philippine laws.—AOL, GMA News