Sunday, December 6, 2009

Do they want to hide proof of poll fraud?


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SENATE minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. yesterday said senators are likely to vote against placing the Maguindanao province under the military rule to flush out perpetrators in the Maguindanao massacre.

At the House, militant lawmakers said they would fight against the declaration when sessions resume today.

President Arroyo was expected to have submitted by nine o’clock last night to Congress a report on the declaration of martial law through Proclamation No. 1959 which she signed late Friday.

The Constitution provides that the President submit to Congress for approval the martial law declaration within 48 hours from its imposition. The President may personally appear before the legislature or submit a written report. Both chambers of Congress will then have to meet jointly to approve or lift the declaration.

Pimentel said he and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile have agreed that the Senate will first meet at 9 a.m. today to discuss the proclamation.

Tomorrow, the Senate will hold a joint session with the House of Representatives at the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City.

Pimentel said if Congress finds no justification for the martial law declaration, it can overturn the President’s action and she could not veto it.

He said that while the Constitution prescribes a 60-day period for the effectivity of martial law, it can be shortened if warranted by circumstances.

Enrile has said the President is authorized by the Constitution to exercise these powers on the basis of facts known to her.

"On the face of the proclamation, there seems to be a basis for it. Now, we have to presume that the President acted on facts known to her and initially we should not question the wisdom or lack of wisdom of her action," Enrile said.

"Even the Supreme Court, in exercising these powers, must deal with the facts in which the President acted in proclaiming martial law in Maguindanao. And that same law or principle must apply equally on the two houses of Congress," Enrile added.

Most senators said the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao was unnecessary and only hints of weak leadership and the inability of government to quell lawlessness in this part of the country.

"It is unfortunate that the declaration of martial law has been resorted to after the government appeared reluctant to go all-out against those responsible for the Maguindanao massacre," said Sen. Manuel Villar.

He said the state of emergency should have already been enough to dismantle the private armies operating in the province.

Villar also said the government might have overreacted as he said the President could declare martial law only in case of rebellion or foreign invasion. He said the acts of the Ampatuans do not fall under such circumstances.


Sen. Loren Legarda said the declaration was "unnecessary and ill-advised" as there was no actual rebellion or invasion.

"Even the Supreme Court disputes the assertion in Proclamation 1959 that the judicial system in Maguindanao was no longer functioning. If this is the case, the main justification for martial law falls flat on its face," she said.

Senators Benigno Aquino III and Manuel Roxas II said the declaration of martial law "does not make sense to us."

In a joint statement, they said even the Armed Forces had declared that there is no need for martial law in Maguindanao or elsewhere in the country because the AFP and PNP are on top of the situation.

They said the crimes committed in the province are murder, rape, kidnapping and more.

"These capital crimes are non-bailable. In a state of martial law, these common crimes may be absorbed into the single crime of rebellion… which is bailable," they said.

"And worse all those charged with rebellion may be subject to amnesty. Are they laying the basis for a political solution to the crimes committed?" they asked.


At the House, eight party-list representatives who compose the "Makabayan" coalition demanded the revocation of Proclamation 1959.

The progressive party-list group is composed of Representatives Satur Ocampo, Teddy CasiƱo and Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna; Liza Maza and Luzviminda Ilagan of Gabriela, Rafael Mariano and Joel Maglunsod of Anakpawis; and Raymond Palatino of Kabataan.

Speaker Prospero Nograles said he would call for an all-party caucus today before the session starts at 4 p.m. to get the pulse of both the supporting and opposing sides.

Nograles said majority of House members believe that the President did the right thing to prevent violence from escalating in the province.

"Majority of the members think the decision of the President is correct. Fact is that many say it should have been done sooner," he said.


The militant lawmakers said Proclamation 1959 was unconstitutional as there is no rebellion or invasion in the area, which the Constitution requires in declaring martial law.

"We believe that Proclamation 1959 is meant to be a precedent. It is an attempt to impose martial law even without the requirements specified in the Constitution," the group said.

The congressmen said they fear that if Arroyo "gets away with this one in Maguindanao, she can get away with it in any other province or the whole country."

They said the move was unnecessary since a state of emergency had already been declared in the area and the AFP, PNP and other government agencies had enough powers to deal with the aftermath of the Maguindanao massacre.


Pimentel said one possible reason for the martial law declaration is to cover up the massive fraud in the 2004 presidential and 2007 senatorial elections.

He urged the Commission on Elections to take custody of ballot boxes and other election paraphernalia reportedly confiscated along with a cache of firearms and ammunition by military units that raided the Ampatuans’ houses recently.

He said Arroyo and her cohorts are afraid that the Ampatuans would expose the rigging of election results in Maguindanao, which enabled her to win over opposition challenger Fernando Poe Jr. in the 2004 elections and the administration candidates to sweep the senatorial polls in the province in 2007.

"The Ampatuans have threatened that if the government would nail them down, they would reveal what really happened in the past two elections," Pimentel said.

"But due to martial law, the public may not be able to know what is happening. The people are afraid to speak. Even journalists may not be able to report the truth because of threat to their lives. Warrantless arrests are being enforced and they can be picked up on order of martial law authorities," he said.


United Opposition president and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay said the declaration could just be used to allow authorities to hunt for evidence of election fraud in the 2004 elections.

He said if the Ampatuans’ threat to expose the extensive cheating in the province during the 2004 presidential elections is proven true, the Arroyo administration is "committing another injustice to the victims of the Maguindanao massacre."

"They are exploiting the nation’s outrage to cover up another serious crime, that of stealing the 2004 elections. It would now appear that the Arroyo administration is using the full might of the state – the Armed Forces, the police and all agencies of government - to recover original election returns or certificates of canvass reportedly in the possession of the Ampatuans," he said.


Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo said he sees nothing wrong with Proclamation 1959.

He said martial law is way better considering the unreliability of the elected provincial government.

"The elements of civilian governance are almost unreliable at present for justice to prevail," he said,

Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, former military ordinariate, said, "There is no rebellion there although there is a grievous criminal situation but which does not warrant Martial Law (declaration).


Former senator Francisco Tatad on Saturday said the conditions required for the imposition of martial law do not exist.

"Under the Constitution, martial law could be proclaimed in case of invasion, rebellion, or when the public safety requires it. Is this happening in Maguindanao, is there invasion or rebellion and does public safety requires it?" Tatad said at a forum.

Tatad, who was press secretary when martial law was declared by Ferdinand Marcos in 1972, said if martial law is declared despite the absence of invasion or rebellion, and Congress allows it, there is the possibility that Proclamation 1959 could spread to other parts of the country. – With Gerard Naval,
Ashzel Hachero, Angela Lopez de Leon and Jay Chua

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