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EDITORIAL: Substantive Justice and Legal Jargons

As of writing ten petitions have already been lodged before the Supreme Court all questioning the constitutionality of the just approved Anti-Terror Law. Among the petitioners are Prof. Howie Calleja of Ateneo De Manila Law School, Albay 1st Dist. Representative Edcel Lagman, FEU law professors led by Dean Mel Sta. Maria, members of the House belonging to the so called MAKABAYAN Bloc and other human rights advocates as well as legal minds vigilant about due process of law, more significantly the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

In the meantime Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra attempted to step on the brake by opining that it would be more prudent to wait for the effectivity of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) to implement the ATL. PNP Chief Archie Gamboa was left no choice but maintain that the police force cannot yet enforce the ATL in the absence of the IRR.

Prior to that, an unfortunate incident saw members of a crowd including employees of one of ABS CBN’s regional teams rallying against the shuttering of the giant network being apprehended for, believe or not, violation of the ATL.

The incident was promptly posted through one of the PNP portals only to be removed upon realizing perhaps that the officers involved were just being too eager beaver.

Guevarra’s view is indicative of level headedness. After all the petitions against ATL have yet to be decided by the highest tribunal which could resolve the issues weighing the situation in favor of substantive justice and not via legal gobbledygook, to borrow the term of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban.

That wish however should be addressed not only to the petitioners but also to the government counsel. More to the justices. Why have they not also resorted to legal jargons? Come on CJ Panganiban.

So far the justice secretary’s view that the ATL does not find applicability in protests sends a sobering message to all parties concerned. But then just how much weight does his pronouncement carry?

Besides,the justice secretary must not rest with generalities. He should not lose sight of the fact that protests are manifested in different forms, such as rallies, strikes, social media posts, civil disobedience, publication or broadcasting constructive criticisms addressed to erring or abusive government officials or taking issue about flawed policies.

Just to refresh memories, during the early part of the Marcos dictatorship a broadcaster in Metro Manila who wanted probably to be funny said “ sa ikakaunlad ng bayan biseklita ang kailangan” got detained. Ariel Oreta would not easily have forgotten that.

Note that PNP belongs to DILG. Given the situation, to whom will the eager beaver law enforcers be more obedient. In a more alarming scenario there arises that fear about “Nanlaban kasi”. God forbid.

A very careful judicial review of the ATL is a must to prevent misinterpretation. If misencounters frequently bug those in uniform, innocent civilians can be more vulnerable to misjudgments.

Improve first the intelligence systems and practices. At the end of the day faithful compliance still remains most ideal. No procedural shortcuts under any circumstances. While warrantless arrests are allowed under certain circumstances, it must be borne in mind that evidence obtained illegally is like a fruit taken from a poisonous tree.

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