Wednesday| June 14, 2017
MANILA, Philippines - Was it a rebellion launched by terror group Maute that justified President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao?
The Supreme Court (SC) raised this question yesterday as it scrutinized the bases for the issuance of Proclamation No. 216 during oral arguments on three consolidated petitions seeking to strike down the martial law declaration.
Petitioners led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman told the high court that there was no sufficient factual basis to justify martial law implementation as several information cited in the proclamation were “false, inaccurate and contrived.”
The opposition lawmaker cited erroneous pronouncements by the government, including the supposed beheading of the Marawi City police chief who later turned up alive was even interviewed by the media.
He also labeled as false a report that a hospital and a school had been taken over by the terrorists.
“Verily, not only was there no sufficient basis of rebellion, there was also no factual anchorage for this necessity of imposing martial law to secure public safety,” he told the justices.
“President Duterte should have validated the situation on the ground upon arriving home, exercise due discretion,” he added.
Lagman further argued that the martial law imposition went against the pronouncement of the government that the situation was under control.
“According to responsible military officials, the situation in Marawi was under control and the military was on top of the situation before, shortly before and at the time the Proclamation 216 was issued. Four hours before President Duterte issued Proclamation 216 in Moscow, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. categorically said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines was in full control of the situation,” he recalled.
The petitioner further argued that a key element in the act of rebellion – culpable purpose of removing allegiance from the Philippines and preventing the President and legislature from exercising their functions – was not present in the Marawi siege.
Lawyer Marlon Manuel, who represented another group of petitioners composed of a group of women from Marawi led by Norkaya Mohamad, agreed with Lagman that the military can end the siege in Marawi without the need for martial law.
“Under the 1987 Constitution, martial law must be an instrument of last resort. If there is a remedy less severe than martial law, such less severe remedy must be resorted to. Only when there is a showing that the situation cannot be contained unless martial law is declared, can the use of such extraordinary power of the President be justifiable,” he argued.
The petitioners said the SC should exercise its review power and strike down the proclamation.
Solicitor General Jose Calida immediately rebutted the allegations of petitioners and insisted that there exists a rebellion by Maute.
“Who would ever believe that what is happening now in Marawi is not rebellion? All the elements or rebellion are there – armed public uprising and allegiance to ISIS,” he told reporters in an ambush interview.
“ISIS-inspired local rebel groups have taken arms against the Philippine government for the purposed of removing Mindanao from its allegiance, and of depriving the Chief Executive of his prerogatives therein,” he said.
During interpellation, Lagman was asked by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo if he personally witnessed the situation in Marawi to claim that there is no rebellion.
“You have not been there on the ground; you don’t know what the situation is there. So how can you dispute now the findings of the sufficiency of the factual basis for the declaration?” the magistrate pointed out.
In response, Lagman said he did not have to personally fly to Marawi since the basis of their questions could be found in the mandatory report submitted by the President to Congress.
Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin and Estela Perlas-Bernabe cited the presumption of validity of the declaration by the President, who should be given deference on the matter as the commander-in-chief.
The burden of proving that the President had committed grave abuse of discretion should be on the petitioners, they said.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, on the other hand, raised questions on why the declaration covered the entire Mindanao.
“You said that in rebellion, there should be an actual rebellion for martial law to be declared. Can you point to any incident that in the Agusan provinces that there was rebellion?” he asked during interpellation, to which Lagman responded with “no, your honor.”
“Under the present Constitution, there must be actual rebellion,” Carpio stressed, citing the absence of rebellion in other provinces covered by the proclamation.
Lagman agreed and explained that imminent danger in the other provinces in Mindanao cannot be basis for their being covered by the martial law declaration.
Carpio also pointed to the martial law provision in the 1987 Constitution, which allows the SC to “review, in an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen, the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ or the extension thereof, and must promulgate its decision thereon within 30 days from its filing.”
Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, for his part, pointed out that martial law “should have clear operational guidelines because it’s not simple declaration but, rather, it has real effects.”
Leonen added that the SC has the power to review the declaration and should not give full deference to the Chief Executive and dismiss the petitions on technicalities.
The oral arguments will continue at 10 a.m. today.
Other groups led by former senators Rene Saguisag and Wigberto Tañada filed separate petitions seeking the issuance of a mandamus that would compel the Senate and the House of Representatives to convene jointly to review the declaration.
The SC has consolidated the cases and ordered the solicitor general to also answer them.
More ML backers
At the Senate, the majority bloc maintained President Duterte’s martial law declaration was constitutional and legal.
Sen. Francis Escudero said the ongoing battle in Marawi City between government troops and Maute militants “falls on all fours” with the definition of rebellion under the Revised Penal Code (Title 3, Chapter 1, Article 134) even if it is “called or branded as ‘terrorism’ mostly by media, given that it is the current international norm in relation to similar incidents.”
The situation, he said, does not change the fact that it complies with all the elements of rebellion under the 1932 Revised Penal Code and the 1987 Constitution when the word “terrorism” was not yet coined.
He said the continuous heavy fighting in Marawi City only showed the gravity of the situation in the area, contrary to the position taken by those opposing martial law.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III stressed the “terrorists were rebelling against the government” as he lashed out at some lawmakers contesting the proclamation before the SC.
“It’s like saying that suicide does not equate to death,” Sotto said. “Why don’t we send those against it to Marawi and let them end the crisis there?”
Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said that he is open to the extension of martial law in Mindanao if necessary.
“So we will see after 60 days if the situation has not improved, then we will assess. Personally, I would want another briefing from the security officials, from PNP (Philippine National Police) officials, so that we would know the real situation, in case we need to extend, or if not, if they have the situation under control already, then we can opt not to extend or to revoke martial law,” he said.
He said that ordinary Filipinos should have nothing to worry about the declaration of martial law as it is intended to quell a rebellion.
Meanwhile, the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said Duterte’s martial law declaration threatens to undermine civilian authority in the country. “There can be no freedom when civil and political rights are curtailed and when military rule is above civilian supremacy,” KMP secretary-general Antonio Flores said.
The group also lambasted the President for allowing the US to intervene in the Marawi crisis.
“While President Duterte is constantly mouthing strong words and empty threats, he practically acted like a lame duck when he admitted that he is not aware of the participation of US troops in the military operations in Marawi,” Flores said.
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SOURCE: YOUTUBE, PHILSTAR