By MARIO B. CASAYURAN and ROLLY T. CARANDANG
December 6, 2009, 5:21pm
Original Story: http://mb.com.ph/articles/232828/ml-tied-poll-cheating
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. Sunday 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 raided the Ampatuan mansions in Maguindanao recently.
He said that one possible reason for the martial law declaration in Maguindanao might be to cover up the massive fraud that marred the 2004 presidential and 2007 senatorial elections in the province.
The opposition leader said President Arroyo and her cohorts are afraid that the Ampatuans might expose the rigging of election results in Maguindanao that enabled her to win over opposition challenger Fernando Poe, Jr. in the 2004 elections and for 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.
He said he was informed that during the series of raids conducted by the military and police forces, the raiders discovered and confiscated ballot boxes containing election documents.
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 the 2004 and 2007 polls.
Pimentel said it should be the Comelec officials in Manila who should scrutinize and take custody of these documents. He suggested that a team from Comelec main office be dispatched to Maguindanao and should be led by lawyer Fernando Rafanan, head of the legal department.
“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.
Pimentel said he finds no legal grounds for declaring martial law as a means of going after the perpetrators of the November 23 massacre of 57 innocent civilians.
He 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.
Pimentel said even military commanders dispatched to Maguindanao reported that while they were able to confiscate huge cache of firearms and ammunition from the weapons arsenal of the Ampatuans, they saw no indication that these political warlords and their followers were attempting to fight back.
“Clearly, there is no basis to the claim that there is a threat of rebellion from the Ampatuans. May be this is just a gimmick to say there is a 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.
He said the President is required to report to Congress within 48 hours from the time she declared martial law. The President may personally appear before the legislature or submit her written report.
The Senate, meanwhile, will meet Monday to discuss the martial law declaration even as Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said, “on the face of the proclamation, there seems to be a basis for it.’’
The meeting was decided by Enrile and other Senate leaders including Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Pimentel. It comes a day before the Senate and the House of Representatives hold a joint session Tuesday afternoon.
“We will discuss the position of the Senate and how we will proceed with this declaration,’’ Zubiri told the Bulletin.
Pimentel said Congress could overturn the President’s declaration if it finds not enough justification for it. And she could not veto it, he added.
‘’Unless we see from the presentation of the President in her report (to Congress) that there was no factual basis to support the proclamation putting Maguindanao under martial law, then we will have to act and reject it,’’ said Enrile, a former president of the Philippine Constitution Association.
“But if there is, then I think we will have to respect the provision of the Constitution that will give her 60 days to perform her job of quelling and stabilizing the situation in Maguindanao,” he added.
Enrile, one of the enforcers of the Marcos martial law regime, said Congress has 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.’’
“She is the one authorized by the Constitution to exercise these powers on the basis of facts known to her. Even the Supreme Court, 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,’’ he added.
The political opposition in the Senate is against the martial law declaration, describing it as ‘’overkill’’ and ‘’illegal.’’
Senators Loren Legarda and Joker Arroyo also said Mrs. Arroyo must submit a report to Congress.
While she condemned the massacre and called for an end to warlordism, and the criminal prosecution of perpetrators, Legarda said the declaration should not be used as a basis to trample human rights and advance her political ambition.”
“If the Maguindanao massacre had been the basis at all, the declaration came late,” Legarda said in a statement.
“Declaring martial law basis must have an actual rebellion and risk on public safety,” she said. “It’s not good to declare martial law. It is like saying that there is an actual rebellion and risk on public safety in Maguindanao.”
The human rights group National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers also the declaration of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in has no sufficient factual basis.
The NUPL said such declaration and suspension may be made only in case of invasion or rebellion and only when the public safety requires it.
“The proclamation’s third whereas clause merely invokes an element of rebellion of “depriving the Chief Executive or the Legislature, wholly or partially, of any of their powers or prerogatives,” the group said.
“The proclamation’s fourth whereas clause simply says, “heavily armed groups in the province of Maguindanao have established positions to resist government troops, thereby depriving the Executive of its powers and prerogatives to enforce the laws of the land and to maintain public order and safety,” it added.
“The gravamen of the felony of rebellion is the armed public uprising against the government, as clearly defined in Article 134 of the Revised Penal Code, “Rebellion or insurrection; How committed. — The crime of rebellion or insurrection is committed by rising publicly and taking arms against the Government for the purpose of removing from the allegiance to said Government or its laws, the territory of the Philippine Islands or any part thereof, of any body of land, naval or other armed forces, depriving the Chief Executive or the Legislature, wholly or partially, of any of their powers or prerogatives.”
The group said public safety in the area can be ensured even without such declaration and suspension and that the president’s exercise of her ‘calling out power’ is more than enough to prevent or suppress any lawless violence or even a supposed rebellion, if any.
The group said that it will file Monday a petition before the Supreme Court to question Malacañang’s sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairwoman Leila M. de Lima for her part called on citizens to be vigilant and resist any attempt to use the martial law declaration to be the latch door to human rights abuses, the curtailment of civil and political rights, and the suppression of group.
“We may not have enough personnel but we have to exert our best efforts to monitor what is happening in connection with that declaration. We will have to look into the basis for that action. We have to monitor the human rights situation there.
You know what martial law can do to the basic rights of citizens," she said.
“As events unfold quickly, it is an imperative that the people exercise extra vigilance and scrutiny against the possibility of abuses against human rights. The situation is already volatile as it is without martial law, and now we have to be able to carefully monitor how exactly the declaration changes the atmosphere in Maguindanao," the CHR chief stressed. (With reports from Francis T. Wakefield and Marvyn N. Benaning)
Original Story: http://mb.com.ph/articles/232828/ml-tied-poll-cheating