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Opposition Rep. Edcel C. Lagman maintains that oral argument in the anti-terrorism petitions before the Supreme Court can be held in abeyance while Metro Manila is under General Community Quarantine (GCQ) but must not be cancelled altogether.

Lagman was reacting to Solicitor General Jose Calida's urgent motion for the Supreme Court to cancel either oral argument in open session or by virtual platform on the 29 petitions, of which Lagman is one of the petitioners, against the Anti-Terrorism Law (ATA) because mass gatherings are prohibited in areas still under GCQ like Metro Manila.

The health protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are temporary measures, and as soon as they are lifted, oral argument can be scheduled either in open court or online, with reasonable limitation of attendees in either case.

Judicial authorities and advocates consider oral argument as necessary and important in close cases because:

  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. 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.”

  6. 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.

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

  8. According to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg of the US Federal Supreme Court, justices use oral argument to persuade one another.

  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.

  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).