Convene Congress immediately, senator asks

December 4, 2009

Maila Ager
December 5, 2009

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE 2) Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. has called for the immediate convening of Congress either this Saturday or Sunday to act on the government’s martial law declaration in Maguindanao supposedly to address the deteriorating peace and order situation in the province.

“The Senate and the House [of Representatives] should meet today or tomorrow, the latest on Monday to discuss the validity, duration and procedure of the martial law declaration,” Pimentel said over the phone.

“Ang kinatatakutan ko [What I am afraid of is that], it can set a bad precedent. Kailangang mapag-usapan ang dahilan at duration ng declaration [The reason and duration of the declaration should be discussed]. Sa tingin ko [I think] the main purpose is to disarm Governor Ampatuan, his family, clan, and supporters. That should be the main target, otherwise, kawawa ang taumbayan [pity the people],” he said.

Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero supported Pimentel’s call.

But Escudero believed that the government’s declaration was “legally defective,” citing the absence of rebellion, invasion or lawless violence in the area.

“And the President can’t just suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus even during martial law,” he said in a text message.

“I hope it’s not a case of Maguindanao today… the Philippines tomorrow,” Escudero said, “I cannot recall a time during my life that a military commander was asked to take over an elective civilian position. For the longest time, the government has to be a warlord itself to undo what it has done.”

He then reminded the military commanders in the area to ensure that human rights would be respected and to check any abuses.

The senator also urged the Senate and the House to jointly monitor and look into the developments in that area to determine if the declaration of martial law was necessary or on “overkill.”

“Si Erap [Estrada’s monicker] nag open war in 2000 sa Mindanao against the MILF [Moro Islamic Liberation Front]. The theater of war included Maguindanao and even parts of Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, and North Cotabato but he did not declare martial law,” Escudero added, referring to former president Joseph Estrada.

Like Escudero, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan also believes that the martial law declaration in Maguindanao was of “dubious legality.”

“Section 18, Article VII is clear that invasion or rebellion is the only grounds for a declaration of martial law. Where is the rebellion? Where is the invasion?” Pangilinan asked in a separate text message.

“The truth is all key personalities are now under police custody. The factual basis for a martial law declaration therefore appears to be inexistent,” he said.

Pangilinan called for the immediate withdrawal of martial law.

But Pimentel pointed out that under the law, the government may also declare martial law if there was imminent danger to the public safety or if there was immediate possibility of rebellion happening in the area.

The camp of Liberal Party presidential candidate Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III slammed Speaker Prospero Nograles for making the House of Representatives a “rubber stamp Congress” by saying that they do not need to convene in joint session to discuss the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao.

Lawyer Edwin Lacierda, spokesman of the party, said it would be in violation of the law if Congress would not convene jointly following the declaration.

Congress should convene 24 hours after the declaration of martial law, according to the Constitution, he said.

The lawyer said it was a skewed interpretation of the Constitution if Nograles would insist that the joint session was needed only to revoke the declaration.

“It shows it’s a rubber stamp Congress. It would be in violation of its mandate if Congress does not perform its legislative oversight constitutional power in a declaration of martial law,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda also chided Nograles for saying that majority of the lawmakers approve of martial law in Maguindanao when he has yet to convene them.

Former senator Francisco Tatad, a close ally of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos during his long rule under martial law, said that if Ms Arroyo could declare martial law in Maguindanao without the constitutional requirements of invasion or rebellion, then she could impose it in other parts of the country.

“If there is no invasion or rebellion and martial law was imposed and Congress allows it, the next day it might be another part of the country that does not need invasion or rebellion [for martial law to be declared there],” Tatad said at the Kapihan sa Sulo forum.

“If we will allow that martial law, now it’s Maguindanao, tomorrow, where?” he added.

He also said that the solution imposed in Maguindanao should not be worse than the disease it was meant to cure.


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