Sunday, December 6, 2009

Martial law a test for 2010 polls?

By Christina Mendez
The Philippine Star
Updated December 07, 2009 12:00 AM

Original Story:

MANILA, Philippines - A senator and two former senior government officials raised yesterday the possibility that the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao province could be a test case for a similar declaration during the May 2010 elections.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo and former Senate President Franklin Drilon also said the Constitution clearly states that actual rebellion is needed for the declaration of martial law.

Marcelo pointed out that the provision for “imminent danger thereof” was precisely not included in the 1987 Constitution, and therefore a case of “looming rebellion,” as stated by Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, was not a valid ground for Proclamation 1959 imposing martial law in Maguindanao.

Lacson, for his part, said the President might only be “testing the waters” to see if she could impose martial law in other parts of the country, especially in areas where violence could occur in the 2010 elections.

Marcelo said that violence could be triggered in areas of the country with enough votes to affect the outcome of elections for national positions such as president and vice president, and this could be used as basis for declaring martial law and a failure of elections. Drilon, for his part, said that Proclamation 1959 is “patently defective” since the two conditions for martial law – rebellion and invasion – were not present in this instance.

“Ampatuan is neither a rebel nor an invader,” he told The STAR.

Both expressed apprehension that if the President’s declaration is challenged before the Supreme Court and it is sustained, then it could be basis for the declaration of martial law in any part of the country during the 2010 elections.

“There were no reports of people massing or committing acts that are connected with the crime of rebellion,” Marcelo, who figured prominently during the Estrada impeachment trial, told The STAR.

“What is very obvious is that there is absolutely no basis for the declaration of martial law. If the Supreme Court will sustain something patently defective, what’s next?” Drilon, who served as justice secretary during the Aquino administration, said.

He added that this could then embolden Mrs. Arroyo to “keep pushing the envelope further if the people will not react” to this declaration of martial law.

Marcelo said that this is also a test for the Supreme Court, to see if it will react the same way the Marcos Supreme Court did in 1972, upholding the declaration of martial law.

The justices of the Supreme Court (SC) in 1972 were all Marcos appointees. The current SC is composed of Arroyo appointees, except for Chief Justice Reynato Puno.

Lacson, in an interview over dzXL, said the power of the President to declare martial law is not absolute and any citizen can question it before the Supreme Court.

“It’s possible and a lot of Filipinos are thinking that they’re just testing the waters, testing ground if people will disapprove. It’s possible that there will be violence in different parts of the country during the elections. If there are reports about armed men then it could be a basis for the declaration of martial law. It’s easy to get a simple majority in both Houses voting jointly,” he said.

Ampatuans might open Pandora’s box

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., meanwhile, urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to take custody of the ballot boxes and other election paraphernalia reportedly confiscated along with a cache of firearms and ammunition by military units that was taken from the Ampatuan mansions recently.

He said that one possible reason for the martial law declaration might be to cover up the massive fraud that marred the 2004 presidential and 2007 senatorial elections in the province.

Pimentel said President Arroyo and her cohorts are afraid that the Ampatuans might expose the cheating in Maguindanao that enabled her to win over opposition challenger Fernando Poe Jr. in the 2004 elections and allowed 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,” he said.

The opposition senator said he was informed that military and police forces discovered and confiscated ballot boxes containing election documents during the series of raids on Ampatuan’s houses.

He said he was also told that election officials assigned to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) have been ordered to examine and take custody of the documents.

He said he is worried that the election documents may be tampered with or destroyed because certain election officials in the ARMM were involved in the cheating operations in 2004 and 2007.

“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,” Pimentel said in a statement.

Comelec Commissioner Lucenito Tagle yesterday said the poll body will look into the minority leader’s assertions.

Like Drilon and Marcelo, Pimentel argued that the conditions laid down by the Constitution for imposing martial law are not present in Maguindanao, specifically the threat of rebellion and invasion by an external force.

“What happened in Maguindanao was that members of the Mangudadatu family and their companions, including lawyers and journalists, were ambushed, abducted and massacred. Where is rebellion there?” the senator from Mindanao said.

“Clearly, there is no basis for the claim that there is a threat of rebellion from the Ampatuans. Maybe this is just a gimmick to say there is ground for martial law. But as I see it, this is just a ploy to hide the evidence of massive cheating in the last elections,” he said.

Congress has the ball

The Senate will meet tomorrow to discuss the President’s proclamation in preparation for the joint session on Tuesday.

Under the Constitution, the President, after declaring martial law, is required to submit to Congress a report on the matter within 48 hours.

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.

Pimentel said the Senate is likely to vote against the martial law declaration if it is not convinced of the grounds cited by the Chief Executive. But he said the voting at the House may turn out to be different because it is dominated Mrs. Arroyo’s allies.

But Drilon was less optimistic on the position of the House.

“Speaker Nograles has reportedly said that Congress will sustain the declaration of martial law,” he said.

DOJ sets to file rebellion charges

The arguments on the validity of the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao, however, comes as the Department of Justice (DOJ) is set to file today rebellion charges against the members of the powerful Ampatuan clan.

Sec. Agnes Devanadera yesterday said there is ample evidence that the Ampatuans have usurped the power of government, which could qualify as an act of rebellion.

“Our evidence if strong. They have usurped power from the government there. We did not see them plotting against the government, we saw the deed done,” she told dzBB in an interview.

Devanadera argued that the existence of armed groups reportedly identified with the Ampatuans threatens to destabilize peace and order in the province. It also showed that they have removed allegiance to the government and its laws.

“The elements of rebellion are there. Allegiance or loyalty to the Republic had been removed,” she said, justifying President Arroyo’s move to declare Proclamation No. 1956.

“This was not an ordinary disorder taking place in one area. It had an armed component,” she stressed.

The DOJ chief said they have evaluated reports by law enforcement agencies and found that in some areas in the province “rebellion has been completed because they (Ampatuans) have removed from the duly constituted authorities the allegiance of people because they don’t follow authorities.”

Devanadera said the closure of municipal and other government offices, as ordered by local officials, is an “overt act showing that they are following some forces other than the government.”

However, Marcelo pointed out that rebellion is a political crime which carries lesser punishment than the capital offense of multiple murder. “Rebellion is a political crime which could be subject to amnesty or even pardon. And in the case of rebellion, only the leaders can be held without bail. Murder, on the other hand, is a capital and thius non-bailable offense which could merit life imprisonment,” Marcelo said.

The DOJ was still preparing the complaint to be filed against the Ampatuans and their men as of yesterday afternoon.

“We are now focusing on evaluation of evidence and preparation of the case.

What is important is that the government complies with the requirements of the Constitution,” she said.

Under the Charter, those arrested under martial law should be charged in court within three days after arrest. Devanadera said the case would be filed today in a court in Mindanao.

Sec. Devanadera said they are still preparing and evaluating the inputs for the report, which the Palace was set to release on or before 9 p.m. last night, or 48 hours after martial law was declared in the province.

She said the report will include cases of multiple murder and rebellion that prompted Mrs. Arroyo to declare martial law.

“All these actions that the government is doing are in accordance with the Constitution. The declaration of martial law in Mindanao is not a taste test for doing the same in other parts of the country,” she insisted.

She also maintained that judicial offices in the province have been shut down because all judges and prosecutors have taken leaves of absence to avoid being involved in cases filed against members of the powerful political clan of the Ampatuans. She said this showed that the judicial system in the province has not been functioning.

SC: “Judiciary is functioning”

The Supreme Court, however, has contested this claim. Deputy court administrator and spokesman lawyer Midas Marquez said the Court has assigned a judge in Cotabato Regional Trial Court to hear the multiple murder case.

He said acting Cotabato RTC branch 15 Judge Melanio Guerrero has in fact issued a commitment order on Mayor Ampatuan and six search warrants and a hearing for the petition for bail has been set today.

Marquez said it is not true that judges and their staffs have taken leaves of absence for fear of handling the case against Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. that was filed last week.

“What happened there was that Cotabato RTC Branch 15, which has jurisdiction over Maguindanao, has not had a presiding judge before the massacre. It has a pairing judge but he was related to the Ampatuans so Chief Justice (Reynato) Puno assigned another judge who is known for his integrity,” the SC official explained. – Edu Punay, Mayen Jaymalin, Aurea Calica

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