MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - Several petitions were filed Monday before the Supreme Court (SC) seeking to declare as unconstitutional President Arroyo’s Proclamation No. 1959, which placed most areas in the province of Maguindanao under martial law.
The first petition was filed by Maguindanao 1st District Rep. Didagen Dilangalen, whose daughter is related by marriage to the Ampatuans.
In his petition for certiorari and inhibition before the High Tribunal, Dilangalen questioned the grounds cited by Malacañang to declare martial law in the province.
The congressman said that under the 1987 Constitution, the President can only declare martial law in the Philippines or any part thereof in case of rebellion or invasion when the public sector requires it.
"It is very clear that it says actual rebellion or invasion. There is no such thing as imminent threat of rebellion or looming rebellion. There is no such thing as armed or public uprising in the area," he said in an ANC interview.
The other petitions were filed by the Ampatuans' lawyer, Philip Sigfrid Fortun; Albert Lee Angeles; human rights lawyers belonging to National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL); activist groups Bayan Muna, Gabriela, and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN); former Senator Jovito Salonga and several lawyers led by University of the Philippines (UP) law professor Harry Roque; and, law student Joseph Nelson Loyola.
The petitioners are seeking the High Court’s issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the enforcement of martial law in Maguindanao.
SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said all petitions relating to the Maguindanao incident would be discussed by the SC magistrates during its regular en banc session Tuesday.
“It will be included in tomorrow’s [Tuesday] agenda of the en banc. We will try to include all others in tomorrow’s agenda as well. Most probably, they will all be consolidated,” Marquez said in a text message.
Section 18 of Article VII of the Constitution states that the SC “may review, in an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen, the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or the extension thereof, and must promulgate its decision thereon within thirty days from its filing.”
In his petition, Fortun argued that the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao has no factual basis as no actual rebellion or invasion exist, and that the local judicial system that has jurisdiction over Maguindanao is fully operational, contrary to Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera's claim.
He also cited Section 18 of the Constitution which allows the President to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the country under martial law for a period not exceeding 60 days “in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it.”
Fortun insisted that even imminent danger of rebellion does not exist in Maguindanao considering that the government has assured that it has full control of the situation following the declaration of a state of emergency and the corresponding take over of the province by government authorities.
Fortun also noted that the Ampatuans had already signified that they were willing to cooperate with the authorities in connection with the massacre of 57 civilians, including 30 journalists.
“No danger of retaliation or tumultuous uprising from the Ampatuans could therefore be expected. Thus, the claim of the government that supporters of, or the Ampatuans were brewing a plan to publicly rise and take up arms against it is pure speculation and conjecture,” Fortun said.
'No sufficient factual basis'
On the other hand, the NUPL and its co-petitioners argued that the claim of the government that there were heavily-armed groups that have established positions in some areas in Maguindanao has not been confirmed by other sources except by military and executive officials.
“As of this filing, however, no arrest or even a single encounter has happened between military troops and the so-called ‘heavily armed groups in the province of Maguindanao that have established positions to resist government troops, thereby depriving the Executive of its powers and prerogatives to enforce laws and to maintain public order and safety’ claimed by Malacañang to be present in the province and used as a reason in the issuance of Proclamation No. 1959,” the petitioners said.
They noted that even the full text of Proclamation No. 1959 fails to state any sufficient factual basis for the declaration of martial law.
The petitioners said mere allegations about the alleged deterioration of the condition of peace and order in Maguindanao, to the extent that the local judicial system and other government mechanisms in the province are not functioning, are not enough bases for a declaration of martial law.
The petitioners also stressed that there was no instance, since the Maguindanao massacre happened, wherein President Arroyo as been deprived of any of her powers or prerogatives since she was able to exercise her powers as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines by issuing Proclamation No. 1946.
“The proclamation of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus are not a substitute for the incompetence of the authorities in the immediate arrest and detention of the butchers in the Ampatuan town massacre,” the petitioners said.
“Abuse of discretion”
Meanwhile, Salonga’s group also maintained that President Arroyo abused her discretion in declaring martial in Maguindanao considering that the massacre in Ampatuan town is a police matter already addressed by her earlier declaration of a state of emergency, which also covered the province.
“There is no one to blame for the breakdown of government functions in Maguindanao but the Arroyo administration itself, since from November 27, 2009, it had shut down government offices in the province and placed them under the control and supervision of Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno," they argued.
They noted that the alleged acts of rebellion by the Ampatuans had already been quashed with the confiscation by the police and the military of huge caches of arms, explosives and ammunition.
Rebellion charges filed
Meanwhile, Devanadera said the Philippine National Police has already filed a formal complaint of rebellion against 24 individuals including former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Datu Zaldy Ampatuan.
Devanadera said a panel of prosecutors led by Senior State Prosecutor Leo Dacera are still conducting inquest proceedings to determine whether there is probable cause to file rebellion charges against them before the trial court.
“The prosecutors are still conducting inquest proceedings. I don’t want to preempt their findings. If the evidence would warrant the filing of a case, then we will file it. If not, then they will be released,” she said.
The prosecutors have three days or until Tuesday to “judicially charge” those persons arrested during the implementation of martial law.
Aside from the petitions seeking the lifting of Proclamation No. 1959, the other issues to be tackled by the SC are the petitions filed by ARMM Gov. Ampatuan and other ARMM officials on the following:
- seeking to enjoin government authorities from taking control of the region and suspending local officials and employees accused of having involvement in the November 23 massacre;
- the petition of the Ampatuans seeking the issuance of TRO to enjoin authorities from arresting them without a warrant; and,
- the motion of the Department of Justice seeking the transfer of the court proceedings involving the Maguindanao massacre to any court in Metro Manila.