By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star)
Solicitor General Jose Calida gave Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno this assurance when she insisted on the comparison during the continuation of oral arguments yesterday at the Supreme Court on Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao. File
MANILA, Philippines - President Duterte is not Ferdinand Marcos.
Solicitor General Jose Calida gave Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno this assurance when she insisted on the comparison during the continuation of oral arguments yesterday at the Supreme Court on Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
“President Duterte likewise ordered (that) the constitutional rights of the Filipino people shall be respected and protected at all times,” Calida said, as he also downplayed alleged human rights abuses raised by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ Lanao del Sur chapter.
“President Duterte’s order of martial law is markedly different from that issued by president Marcos,” Calida said, referring to the late dictator who ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986.
Enforced disappearances, tortures, killings and other forms of human rights abuses marked Marcos’ regime after he declared martial law on Sept. 21, 1972.
In defending Duterte’s martial law, Calida also said that the attack of Maute militants in Marawi City was not just an act of terrorism, but a clear case of rebellion and part of a bigger plot to make Mindanao part of an Islamic State (IS) caliphate.
“The crisis in Marawi is not an isolated incident... This is not only a display of Maute’s force but a siege of power,” Calida told the high court.
“The rebels seized Marawi not just with the intention of striking fear. They wanted to establish a caliphate and dismember Marawi,” Calida pointed out, presenting to the justices an IS flag recovered by the military from the rebels.
Calida argued that elements of rebellion – raising arms against the government and culpable purpose of removing allegiance from the government – were present in the crisis that required the President to use his power of declaring martial law under Article VII, Section 18 of the Constitution.
Calida also noted that when Duterte saw the gravity of rebellion, he had to act swiftly and decisively to save Marawi.
“Were it not for the President’s swift action, the rebels would’ve established a stronghold in the heart of Mindanao,” Calida pointed out.
During interpellation, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio asked Calida why the declaration covered the entire Mindanao when there was no rebellion in other provinces.
The solicitor general cited “linkages” between the Maute group and other rebel groups in the region, like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Abu Sayyaf.
“The seeds of rebellion were already planted in different parts of Mindanao. Public safety requires the declaration of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of habeas corpus not just in Marawi but also in the entire Mindanao,” he explained.
Sereno asked Calida why there was a need to declare martial law when the President already had the power to call out the military to stop the siege.
Calida explained that the President saw the calling-out power as a milder response and wanted a stronger action to stop the rebellion.
“That’s the judgment call of the President; he alone was vested with such power,” he stressed, basing his statement on the Constitution.
Calida likewise raised technical issues on the three consolidated petitions filed by opposition lawmakers led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, local Mindanao leaders led by lumad leader Eufemia Campos Cullamat and a group of women from Marawi led by Norkaya Mohamad, seeking to strike down Proclamation No. 216.
He said the petitions have formal defects, citing their failure to specify the remedy being invoked for the SC to review the factual bases of the martial law proclamation.
The solicitor general argued that petitioners cannot just invoke the martial law provisions in the Constitution and should have instead filed petition for review under the Rules of Court.
“The discretion to proclaim martial law can only be questioned if the President acted with grave abuse of discretion. The burden on the petitioners is to show that the declaration is bereft of merit and the petitioners miserably (had) failed to overcome this onus,” he alleged.
The martial law proclamation being a political issue was also raised during the hearing.
During interpellation, Associate Justice Noel Tijam asked Lagman if he voted for Duterte in last year’s election.
The opposition lawmaker refused to answer and invoked the sanctity of his vote, but admitted that he does not trust Duterte to use the martial law power reasonably and legally.
Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro cited the possibility that the actions of the Maute group may have political motives.
“We are living in modern times. We cannot use the standard used many, many years ago… Terrorism now is being used to achieve a political objective,” she explained.
“I don’t think terrorists are sowing terror just for the sake of sowing terror. It could be that they are doing these to overthrow the duly constituted government.”
With the existence of that objective, De Castro said the Marawi attacks would fall under rebellion.
The three-day oral arguments continue today when Calida returns to the podium for more interpellation from the justices.
The SC had also required Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Eduardo Año and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to appear today for clarification on the factual basis of the martial law proclamation, which is the main issue raised by the petitioners.
Meanwhile, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III scoffed at the arguments presented by the petitioners against Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao before the SC.
He said the petitioners were apparently splitting hairs in their arguments, particularly that there is no rebellion, but terrorism, in Marawi City.
Article VII, Section 1 of the Constitution states that the President may declare martial law in case of invasion or rebellion.
“Terrorism is not rebellion. That is correct. But why are they even discussing that?” Pimentel said.
“The martial law proclamation says that there is actual rebellion. So, what is their point in wasting time about terrorism?” he said.
Pimentel and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez were among the respondents named in the petitions asking the SC to compel Congress to hold a joint session to deliberate on Duterte’s martial law declaration in Mindanao last May 23.
Pimentel expressed confidence the SC will respect Congress’ decision not to convene in joint session.
No ML extension to Visayas
Contrary to his previous pronouncements, Duterte will not extend martial law to the Visayas region amid the ongoing firefight between government troops and the terrorist group Maute in Marawi City.
Tourism assistant secretary and spokesman Ricky Alegre yesterday said in a press conference that Duterte told them last Friday that he would not extend martial law to the Visayas, which he considered “a major pronouncement, especially for tourism.”
“We’re very happy and we thank President Duterte that last Friday, he said, ‘We’re not going to extend martial law to Visayas.’ That is a major pronouncement,” Alegre said during the weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay in Malate.
Alegre said that Duterte’s pronouncement would help reboot the tourism industry in Bohol, Cebu, Palawan and Boracay after some tourists had cancelled trips to the Philippines because of the alleged presence of the Abu Sayyaf.
Some foreign travelers have also cancelled their trips to the Philippines, particularly Mindanao, after Duterte declared martial law in the region. – With Paolo Romero, Robertzon Ramirez, Janie Cameron