Michael Lim Ubac and Leila Salaverria
December 6, 2009
MANILA, Philippines–Most of the senators want to scrap it but majority of congressmen are all for it.
The Senate and the House of Representatives will hold a special joint session at 4 p.m. on Tuesday to address President Macapagal-Arroyo’s imposition of martial law in Maguindanao.
By that time, martial law in the province where the country’s worst election-related violence occurred on Nov. 23 would have been in effect for close to four days, and a number of senators on Saturday said the joint session should be held earlier.
Senators Benigno Aquino III, Alan Peter Cayetano, Francis Escudero, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, Jamby Madrigal and Francis Pangilinan separately questioned the President’s action which, Malacañang had said, was needed to quell a “rebellion in the offing” by forces loyal to the powerful Arroyo ally, the Ampatuan clan.
In a press conference late Saturday afternoon, Senators Aquino and Mar Roxas, the Liberal Party’s presidential and vice presidential candidates in 2010, said they were prepared to challenge the declaration of martial law before the Supreme Court.
Aquino said that while both chambers of Congress were mandated by law to provide a check and balance to the executive branch’s declaration, another option would be to take the issue to the high court.
“Going to the Supreme Court is another avenue to question the factual basis of the imposition. Yes, we are for the lifting of martial law,” he told reporters.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Prospero Nograles had decided on the date of the special joint session.
“That’s what Enrile told me over the phone—his agreement with Nograles,” Pimentel said, quickly adding: “If I had my way, I would rather that we meet today (Saturday) or tomorrow, or Monday at the latest. But we’ll see [how it goes].”
A text message sent by Pimentel to the other five members of the Senate minority bloc read: “Important urgent notice: joint session with House at the Batasan 4 p.m. Tuesday re: martial law in Maguindanao. As opposition group we should all be there.”
“I believe we ought to meet much earlier,” Pangilinan told the Inquirer on the phone. He pointed out that the Constitution mandates Congress in joint session to meet within 48 hours after the declaration of martial law by a sitting President.
But Nograles said Congress could not call a session on the martial law proclamation without Malacañang’s written report on it.
Nograles said he expected to receive Ms Arroyo’s official report within 48 hours.
He said he would call for a caucus of all House members on Monday, and that Enrile would do the same in the Senate.
Interviewed on dwIZ, Enrile justified the delayed joint session: “It’s not mathematical. Every statement of period is more or less within reason. If 48 hours will fall on a Sunday—say we don’t have a session—how will the Constitution force me to convene Congress? Laws must be interpreted in a rational manner.
“The purpose [of the joint session] is no other agenda but to discuss the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao.”
Nograles said the majority in the House wanted the martial law declaration to stand. He said he would even author a resolution of support for it.
“Personally, I think that in this case, [the two] Houses of Congress do not indicate any majority numbers with any intention to revoke the proclamation, which is only good for 60 days,” he said.
Under the Constitution, a majority of Congress voting jointly could revoke a martial law proclamation. But it could also, upon the President’s initiative, extend such a proclamation if the invasion or rebellion persists and public safety so requires.
Under a joint voting scheme, members of the House could overwhelm the sentiment of the Senate, which has far fewer members.
No invasion, rebellion
Quoting the Constitution, members of the opposition in the House said martial law could only be imposed if there was an invasion or a rebellion, neither of which was present in Maguindanao.
“The reported massing of armed groups does not yet constitute rebellion, and can be dealt with under a state of emergency,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo.
Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza said the President could have just called on the military to battle lawlessness in the province.
Speaking for the LP, Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III said: “The [party] believes that the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao is an overreaction. [It] believes that the declaration of martial law fails the constitutional test.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño also said the military and police had enough powers to deal with the Ampatuans. “What we need is not martial law but the rule of law to be followed aggressively but wisely,” he said.
Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros said Ms Arroyo’s decision to resort to martial law “proves the powerlessness of the national government over warlordism.”
She said it would also lead to abuse and the rise of more warlords in Malacañang.
Muntinlupa Rep. Rozzano Rufino Biazon said Congress should revoke the declaration of martial law because the situation might be exploited by those wanting to postpone the 2010 elections and extend martial rule nationwide.
Congress must act now
Senator Roxas said that while the nation was one in seeking justice for the victims of the Nov. 23 massacre, martial law was not the solution to the lawlessness in Maguindanao.
“[The administration] should file cases against those arrested, but martial law is not the solution. Firm, effective law enforcement is the solution,” he said.
In a statement, Aquino demanded that the two chambers of Congress “meet, as required by the Constitution, within 48 hours of a martial law declaration, without need of the President making a call for Congress to convene.”
“Congress must not be a rubber stamp. Congress must ask the right questions, and it must act now,” he said.
Legarda, the vice presidential candidate of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, called on Congress to “review” the martial law proclamation at once.
“Martial law is the ultimate action. There must be a better way to check lawlessness in the area. Is the President admitting now that she couldn’t do anything anymore?” Legarda said.
Madrigal, who is also running for president in 2010, said: “The declaration of martial law proves how incompetent the Arroyo administration is to handle the situation in Maguindanao. Is this the way to punish her political lackeys—by further terrorizing the people? Why only now, and not immediately after the murders?”
Escudero expressed concern that the imposition of martial law in the province “could be a prelude to dictatorial rule.”
“I hope this is not the case of Maguindanao today, the Philippines tomorrow,” he said.
“On its face, the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao is legally defective. The President’s decision as well to suspend the writ of habeas corpus even during martial law is highly irregular. I am sure that Congress will act on this matter without delay,” Escudero said.
Testing the waters
The martial law declaration is the Palace’s way of “testing the waters,” Lacson said on radio.
He said the Chief Executive’s power to declare martial law was “not absolute,” and that he expected the majority in the Senate to vote for its lifting.
Pangilinan said the factual basis for a martial law declaration “appears to be nonexistent.”
“The Maguindanao massacre is neither a rebellion nor an invasion, but a case of multiple murders involving local government officials loyal to President Arroyo,” he said.
Cayetano said it was a sinister plot that was “in the offing” in the imposition of martial law in Maguindanao.
“For me, the administration must be trying to hit two birds with one stone. First is to address its obvious inaction toward feudalism and warlordism, and second, a Plan B for the Arroyo administration—no elections to prolong [its] tenure,” Cayetano said.
But Malacañang found an unlikely ally in Pimentel, who said in a text message: “Martial Law only for a short period to disarm [Maguindanao] Governor [Andal] Ampatuan [Sr.], his children, family, clan, followers and private army.”
Afterward, Pimentel said, the Commission on Elections “takes over control of the army/police [and] cleanses the electoral process.” With reports from Julie M. Aurelio, Fe Zamora and Niña Calleja
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