Safeguards vs abuse of martial law good only if president respects law, Constitution – Lagman

June 14, 2017 - 12:11 PM
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A joint team of police and soldiers use a mallet to force open a door during a house to house search in Marawi City. (Reuters)

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATED – 12:16 p.m.) The constitutional safeguards against the recurrence of the abuse of martial law powers committed during the Marcos dictatorship “will only be good in the hands of a President who respects the law and respects the Constitution.”

This was the assertion of Albay Representative Edcel Lagman as oral arguments continued on three petitions asking the Supreme Court to nullify Proclamation No. 216, through which President Rodrigo Duterte placed the whole of Mindanao under martial law after fighting broke out between government forces and extremist gunmen in Marawi City.

Asked by Justice Noel Tijam if fear of possible abuses prompted the filing of the petitions, Lagman, representing opposition members of the House of Representatives, confirmed that “there is an apprehension that despite the safeguards, these will be violated by a president who doesn’t respect law and Constitution.”

“And we have already evidence of that, with respect to extrajudicial killings related to the deadly campaign against drugs and (Duterte’s) statements which would embolden soldiers to commit excesses, including the crime of rape,” he added.

Lagman also asserted that the tribunal is mandated to exercise its power to review the factual bases for declaring martial law and, “since it was government that alleged the factual bases (it is) incumbent for government to show that, in fact, rebellion existed.”

During earlier questioning by Justice Francis Jardeleza, Lagman maintained that there were no factual bases for Proclamation No. 216 but, worse, that a number of “facts” included by Duterte in both the proclamation and in the report he submitted to Congress to justify his declaration were wrong, such as the occupation of a hospital and the abduction of its staff, the burning of the police station, the Ninoy Aquino College Foundation and an elementary school, and the ransacking of a bank.

Lagman said even those facts that were confirmed might qualify as terrorism but not rebellion, one of the conditions under which martial law can be declared.

Nevertheless, he also described some of Duterte’s assertions were “conclusions of fact and law” that were subjective and not supported by verifiable facts.

Lagman also stressed that the Constitution describes martial law as a “last resort” and, questioned by Tijam, said Duterte’s response to the Marawi crisis should have been “calibrated” — first calling out the military to subdue the lawless violence with the option to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and, finally, “if this still fails, then he can now declare martial law as an act of final resort.”

When Justice Antonio Carpio suggested they were “quibbling over something that does not really matter legally” since they agreed that the president does not acquire any other legal powers through martial law, Lagman said: “He may not assume any legal power, but the Constitution requires him to have sufficient, factual basis for declaration.”

Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, while saying Calida “should prove that the objective of the (Maute) group is to take over the rest of Mindanao,” she asked Lagman: “Does it mean that government will have to wait until they are able to wreak havoc in other cities?”

“The president need not wait for havoc to happen,” Lagman replied. “He can call armed forces to subdue lawlessness rebellion and invasions. He doesn’t have to declare martial law.”

Asked if this meant “the president will have to wait until rebellion is successful before acting because local government is still there,” Lagman said: “Far from that. We’re just stating a fact that despite terrorist acts of the Maute group, the president was not prevented from exercising prerogatives and powers, and the chain of military and LGUs (local government units) are not broken.”