Saturday, December 12, 2009

Martial law lifting welcomed, but Arroyo not off the hook

12/12/2009 | 08:42 PM

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(UPDATE 5 - 10:08 PM) The move of the administration to lift the imposition of martial law in Maguindanao was welcomed on Saturday, but not necessarily praised by critics who called for an investigation into the constitutionality of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s issuance of Proclamation 1959.

Critics led by senators, party-list congressmen, law experts, and activists claim that rebellion in Maguindanao did not exist, and could have been “manufactured" and used as “bandage" for incompetence in law enforcement."

But Press Secretary Cerge Remonde defended the administration's move.

"(It's a case of being) damned if we do and damned if we don’t... We did everything we could do. We used the full powers available to the President under the Constitution, under the law... Government had to work," he said in an interview with a television station Saturday evening.

He said the skepticism over the imposition of martial law was “just largely here in Manila."

“Dito 'yung (Here), every position was being articulated by media, but support is hardly reported," added Remonde.

Akbayan party-list Rep. Ana Theresia “Risa" Hontiveros countered the position of the administration, saying “the declaration has set an extremely dangerous precedent."

"Any government can just manufacture a rebellion to exercise iron rule and suspend civil liberties," she said in a statement sent to media, adding that she would file a resolution at the House of Representatives on Monday to launch an inquiry into Mrs. Arroyo’s proclamation.

"Martial law can be used as a bandage for incompetence in law enforcement. This is too dangerous to be allowed to pass," said Hontiveros.

Lawyer Marvic Leonen, dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law, agrees. He said Congress should conduct a probe into the imposition of martial rule in the province. “Congress must know how it came to pass that martial was declared even when it was not necessary to do so."

Charges vs Cabinet's security cluster

Akbayan is eyeing charges against government officials involved in proclaiming martial law in Maguindanao, according to Hontiveros.

“We are looking into the possibility of filing charges against the cabinet’s security cluster before the Ombudsman," she said. “We cannot allow their incompetence to compromise our civil liberties."

Senators Benigno Simeon “Noynoy" Aquino and Manuel “Mar" Roxas II said that while the public should welcome the administration's move, they should “not be carried away by feelings of relief over the lifting of martial law."

“As the President has done before, so she’s doing it again: she has pushed the envelope but withdrawn her controversial proclamations before anyone can actually render a verdict on their legality or wisdom," Aquino and Roxas, the Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearers, said in a joint statement.

“The Supreme Court and Congress must continue to examine and pass judgment on this illegal martial law declaration in order to set the proper guidelines for the correct exercise of the President’s powers," the two added.

For his part, Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan said that the longer Maguindanao remained under martial rule, the harder it would be for Mrs. Arroyo to justify and prove the existence of rebellion.

“The rebellion existed only in their minds. It is a bogus rebellion and a bogus proclamation that should not have been declared in the first place," said Pangilinan.

The leftist Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) also believes that the declaration "is patently defective and unnecessary."

Bayan likewise urged the high tribunal to rule on the petitions filed by various groups "because of the serious questions on the factual bases of the declaration."

"We hope the Supreme Court will rule in favor of the petitioners, as it did when it struck down Prsidential Proclamation 1017 which placed the entire country under a state of national emergency in 2006," the group said in a statement.

Preempted Congress action

Echoing Pangilinan’s statement, Rep. Lorenzo “Erin" TaƱada, LP spokesperson, said the President only preempted the actions of Congress. Members of the House and the Senate are scheduled to meet on Tuesday to vote on whether or not to lift Proclamation 1959.

“I hope the Supreme Court continues with its hearings and comes out with a decision whether Proclamation 1959 is legal and constitutional or not," he said.

Pangilinan, however, said the joint congressional session would likely be adjourned on the grounds that the issue had already become moot and academic.

Senate minority leader Aquilino Pimentel wants to continue the session so that the President can tell Congress directly that martial law had indeed been lifted.

“Gusto ko sana ipagpatuloy para formal na i-report sa amin ng Pangulo na tapos na ang martial law(I want it to continue so that the President can formally report to us that martial law has ended)," he said.

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