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Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, one of the 31 petitioners challenging the constitutionality of the “Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020” (ATA), opposed the urgent motion of the Solicitor General Jose Calida, on behalf of the public respondents, for the cancellation of the oral argument in the subject petitions even as he cited major reasons for the holding of oral argument in open court at the proper time.

Calida argued that the holding of oral argument, either “in-court or otherwise”, would entail the assembly of numerous petitioners and respondents with their respective counsel constituting mass gathering which is prohibited in areas, like Metro Manila, under General Community Quarantine (GCQ) to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Lagman said that while the oral argument can be held in abeyance in compliance with health protocols, the Supreme Court can conduct the oral argument in open court session as soon as GCQ is lifted or mass gatherings are permitted.

In support of his “Comment” filed on September 1, 2020 with the Supreme Court traversing Calida’s motion, Lagman cited the following 10 overriding reasons why oral argument should be held in close cases as well as in cases of transcendental importance like the infringement of the freedom of speech and dissent and other fundamental rights:

  1. Oral argument provides the enabling venue where the Justices and opposing counsel can instantly interact on major issues, which dialogue cannot happen by merely reading briefs or memoranda;

  2. Oral argument allows the counsel to underscore major issues which could have been overlooked by the magistrates by just perusing the pleadings;

  3. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist of the United States Federal Supreme Court once admitted that "[i]n a significant minority of the cases in which I have heard oral argument, I have left the bench feeling different about a case than I did when I came on the bench.";

  4. Justice Antonin G. Scalia, also of the United States Federal Supreme Court, likewise recognized the importance of oral argument, stating that if a lawyer satisfies one or two critical questions during oral argument, that attorney will have his vote. At least one study of oral argument in the US Supreme Court concluded that oral argument is "at times determinative of the outcome."; 

  5. According to US Federal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, justices use oral argument to persuade one another;   

  6. Oral argument can also be important as an institutional matter because “allowing the parties their day in court before a judicial panel furthers their conviction that they have received the opportunity to be heard that is guaranteed by due process.”;

  7. Lawyers can be aided by questions from the bench as a Justice can identify an angle that the lawyers have overlooked or have not fully advocated;

  8. Justices can gain a sense of the counsel’s credibility based on the candid answers and presentation in the oral argument;

  9. Another significant impact of oral argument in close cases is that it encourages judicial conferencing in a face-to-face setting immediately after the oral argument is heard; and

  10. The ultimate impact of oral argument is that it focuses the Court’s attention on the “real” issues whose resolution will determine the outcome.

Meanwhile, due to justified delay in the final adjudication of the record number of petitions, coupled with a possible deferment of the oral argument, the High Court can issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) stopping the enforcement of the ATA since there are extant laws to adequately deter terrorism and prosecute terrorists like: 

  1. R.A. No. 10166 (Terrorism Financing, Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012);

  2. R.A. No. 10697 (Strategic Trade Management Act); 

  3. R.A. No. 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012); 

  4. R.A. No. 10592 (An Act Amending Articles 29, 94, 97, 98 and 99 of Act. No. 385, as amended, otherwise known as the Revised Penal Code);

  5. R.A. No. 9160 (Anti-Money Laundering Act, as amended); and

  6. R.A. No. 6981 (Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act).

Moreover, the Supreme Court has already exercised its sole discretion under Sec. 3, Rule 10 of the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court when it released on August 11, 2020 a statement, through its Public Information Office, that it will “will conduct oral argument on the subject petitions on the third week of September at the earliest and will issue proper notices once the date is finalized.”

Prudence dictates that no party should interfere in the exercise by the High Court of its discretion to conduct oral argument and when to schedule it.