Wednesday August 22, 2018

Lawmakers question martial law extension; Malacañang readies defense

OPPOSITION lawmakers, the National Union of People's Lawyers and activists have asked the Supreme Court (SC) to nullify the one-year martial law extension in Mindanao.

In their petition, the NUPL, members of the so-called Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives, and human rights advocates and activists said there is "no factual nor legal basis" that would warrant the martial law extension for another year as the siege in Marawi had already been resolved.

They said the martial law extension "is actually a threat against dissenters and activists than armed rebels."

The Makabayan bloc is composed of Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago, ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio and Fransisca Castro, Gabriela Women's Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao and Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate.

Malacañang, in reaction to the petition, expressed optimism that it can defend the legality of the one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao.

Speaking to Palace reporters, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said the promulgation of martial law for another year could not be questioned as the Senate and the House of Representatives had found "factual and legal" grounds to extend it until December 31, 2018.

"We can certainly defend martial law as it has been reviewed already by both houses of Congress. And both houses of Congress, voting jointly, concluded that there is both factual and legal basis," Roque said.

"Two branches of government have already ruled that martial law is constitutional and we're confident that the Philippine government, the executive, can defend this position in the Supreme Court as well," he added.

President Rodrigo Duterte first declared martial law in the entire Mindanao on May 23, 2017, shortly after fighting broke out between the government troops and the Islamic State (IS)-inspired Maute Group in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur province.

Military rule is allowed under the 1987 Constitution for 60 days. Congress, however, extended martial law until the end of 2017 and further to December 31, 2018, despite the end of the armed conflict in Marawi.

The Senate and the House of Representatives, in a joint session held last December 13, 2017, approved Duterte's recommendation to extend martial law until December 2018 to allow government forces to completely flush out stragglers of the Maute extremist group, as well as other terror groups that pose security threats in MIndanao.

The petitioners noted that it is clear that the Constitution stated that the Congress can only extend the proclamation if invasion and rebellion persist that so requires public safety.

Furthermore, the lawmakers argued that the extension cannot be imposed as the Constitution only allows a 60-day extension on the original declaration, and the same has already expired last December.

They added that "using the pre-existing armed struggle of the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines, New People's Army and the National Democratic Front) to justify martial law's extension does not cure the fatal flaw of the absence of sufficient factual bases since the protracted armed conflict was not a ground in the original proclamation 216."

The petitioners said that "despite respondents' claim that the NPA has launched intensified offensives against the government forces, these do not constitutionally amount to a higher quantum of threat to public safety as of the moment to justify the need for the extension of martial law."

The petitioners said that in fact, civilian government and authority is functioning in Mindanao and there is no report stating that the function of the courts in the region has been impared due to the presence of the NPA.

The President has cited the existing war against the NPA he had earlier branded as terrorists, as one of the grounds for the extension of military rule in Mindanao, along with the continuous recruitment of Maute members.

The petitioners asked the court to conduct an inclusive and factual determination of probable cause and to issue in the mean time a temporary restraining order to halt the imposition of the said declaration.

Named respondents are President Rodrigo Duterte, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero and Philippine National Police chief Ronald Dela Rosa. (SunStar Philippines)