Rebellion? What rebellion?

December 11, 2009

Wendell Vigilia with JP Lopez
December 11, 2009

Senators say ‘1959’ doesn’t even mention it

SEN. Francis Pangilinan yesterday dealt a serious blow to President Arroyo’s declaration of martial law in Maguindanao, saying that by the government’s own admission, there was no real act of rebellion in the province which warranted Proclamation 1959.

“There was no armed uprising (against the government), no rebellion. There is no basis to declare martial law,” he told the President’s representatives during the second day of the joint session of Congress.

All six Cabinet members who were invited in the session – Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, PNP chief Jesus Verzosa, Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales and AFP chief of staff Victor Ibrado – were present.

Speaker Prospero Nograles said Congress would have to meet again next Monday to wrap up the question and answer session before rendering a decision through nominal voting. The joint session is not convening today.

Pangilinan started grilling Verzosa, Ibrado and Devanadera – all of whom admitted there was no armed uprising in the province by the Ampatuan clan or any group against the government.

On Wednesday night, Ermita admitted to Rep. Edcel Lagman (Lakas-Kampi CMD, Albay) that there was no “actual” rebellion in Maguindanao.

He, however, said the situation, particularly the positioning of armed groups, all point to rebellion because the armed groups could prevent authorities from carrying out their duties of restoring peace and order in the area.

“You may be correct there is no actual rebellion going on,” he told Lagman who, despite being allied with the administration, insisted there was no actual armed rebellion.

Pangilinan said no government in recent history, except that under Ferdinand Marcos, resorted to martial law even in the most violent situations in Mindanao.

He noted that in 2000, then President Joseph Estrada declared an all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front whose forces attacked Kauswagan, Lanao del Sur.

In 2001, he said the Arroyo government did not declare martial law when former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Nur Misuari led the Moro National Liberation Front rebels in attacking Jolo, Sulu. The attack left 100 people killed.

Last year, he said Arroyo did not also have to resort to martial law when the group of MILF commanders Umbra Kato and Abdurahman Macapaar alias Bravo attacked Iligan City and Lanao del Norte.

Umbra Kato of the MILF’s 105th Base Command was tagged responsible for the forcible occupation of 15 barangays in North Cotabato, and Bravo of the 102nd Base Command for the attacks on Iligan City and three towns in Lanao del Norte and occupation of a fourth town in the province.

Pangilinan said since the PNP and the AFP could not pinpoint a solid case of an armed confrontation between government forces and armed groups of rebels, it was very clear that there were “no difficulties in the deactivation of these armed personnel (civilian volunteer organizations and other auxiliary forces).”

Ibrado admitted no armed group attacked the government forces when they seized control of the capitol and when Andal Ampatuan Jr. was arrested.

“I’m establishing this because obviously, at that time, if there was rebellion or a “looming” rebellion, it did not appear that they (government forces) were having a difficult time doing their work,” Pangilinan said.

Ampatuan is the main suspect in the November 23 massacre of 57 people, mostly members of the rival Mangudadatu clan and media members. He was arrested two days later. Other members of the Ampatuan clan were arrested over the weekend.

Martial law was imposed in Maguindanao last Friday on the recommendation of the military.

President Arroyo, in a 20-page report submitted to Congress Sunday night, said she declared martial law because, among others, lawless elements in the province “have taken up arms and committed public uprising against the duly constituted government and against the people of Maguindanao.”

She said armed groups “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.”

Pangilinan refuted Devanadera’s claim that the justice system in the province was not working before martial law was declared.

He said the justice system was “far from being crippled” since Ampatuan Jr. was charged after his arrest.

But Devanadera said the “extraordinary situation called for extraordinary powers” like the suspension of some provisions of the bill of rights when martial law is declared.

Pangilinan said evidence is still needed before effecting searches and seizures because it is only the writ of habeas corpus which is suspended under a state of martial law.

Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. (PDP-Laban, Makati) used up the time he was allotted to ask questions to defend the President’s decision, saying “nowhere and at no time has martial law been better justified nor based more sufficiently on incontrovertible facts.”

“Look at the bodies. Look at the arms stockpile,” he said. “We are seeing Maguindanao and what we see, unless we are morally blind, cries out for martial law – at least for now.”

Locsin, a lawyer, said he does not believe that rebellion, which is defined under the Revised the Penal Code, is a necessary condition for the validity of a proclamation of martial law.

“Since the repeal of the anti-subversion act, ideology is not a component of rebellion (anymore),” he said. “This state of affairs calls for nothing less than martial law, however you quibble with words.”


Sens. Miriam Defensor Santiago and Alan Peter Caytetano, who spoke yesterday, and minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. who spoke Wednesday night called for the revocation of martial law.

Santiago said Proclamation 1959 does not use the word “rebellion” at all, and this omission is a “fatal flaw.”

The proclamation only claims that “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.”

“Even the Palace advisers were too shamefaced to use the word ‘rebellion,’ so they resorted to linguistic contortions. The records of the Constitutional Commission abound with categorical statements of various commissioners that the rebellion should be actual, and not just imminent,” she said.


Santiago said the essence of rebellion under the Penal Code is twofold: there should be armed public uprising, and it is ideologically motivated.

“We the viewing public never saw rebellion on TV or the internet. What we saw was terrorism, between the camps of two super-warlords. Hence, the Cabinet appears to be claiming the existence of a secret rebellion. But that is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, like a secret pregnancy,” she said.

Santiago said that even assuming that there have been overt acts of rebellion, still the cabinet members will be unable to prove that the so-called rebels are motivated by ideology.

“The alleged rebels have never aired ideology. Thus, the only motive is blood lust. Tribal warfare has been a blood sport in Maguindanao and other armed areas for centuries,” she said.

Santiago also said the two constitutional conditions are absent, namely, actual rebellion, and the requirement of public safety.

“The proclamation claims that the courts are closed, and therefore there is danger to public safety. That is a non sequitur. It is illogical,” she said. 


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