“Absent the existence of actual rebellion in the entire Mindanao, there is no justification to place the entire Mindanao region under martial law and to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.”
By IAN IRVING BAZARTE
MANILA – The Maute armed group attack in Marawi City does not justify President Duterte’s imposition of martial law in the whole Mindanao, petitioners argued at the Supreme Court today, June 13, the first day of oral arguments asking to nullify the declaration.
The Supreme Court (SC) has slated June 13 to 15 for the oral arguments of three petitions against Duterte’s martial law.
The latest petition was filed on June 9 by Makabayan bloc lawmakers and progressive groups, including leaders from Mindanao: Lumad leader Eufemia Campos Cullamat, Virgilio Lincuna of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Gabriela’s Ateliana Hijos, Carlo Olalo of Kilusang Mayo Uno-Southern Mindanao Region (KMU-SMR), trade union leaders Roland Cobrado and Roy Jim Balanghig, a union leader in Shin Sun Tropical Fruits Inc., and among those attacked by a combined force of military and police last June 2.
The first two petitions were filed by opposition lawmakers led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, and by a group of four women from Marawi city.
On May 23, Duterte issued Proclamation 216, placing the entire Mindanao under martial law after Isis-inspired armed group Maute laid siege to the city of Marawi City, Lanao del Sur; this move has garnered flak from several progressive groups.
‘No factual basis’
The petitioners argued that the declaration of martial law was unconstitutional because it had no factual basis and should accordingly be suspended.
In his opening statement, Lagman cited a Pulse Asia survey as proof that Filipinos disagree with martial law. The survey, released last January, found out that 74 percent of respondents do not want martial law; it was the same sentiment of 75 percent of respondents from Mindanao.
“Clearly, your honors, the people have not forgotten the atrocities, repression and corruption during the Martial Law regime of President Marcos,” he said.
Lagman also said defense and military officials themselves admitted that the current conflict in Marawi City was government-initiated and stemmed from a military operation to capture Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.
“Consequently, the alleged ‘siege’ of Marawi City is actually an armed resistance by the Maute Group to shield Hapilon from capture, not to overrun Marawi and remove its allegiance from the Republic,” he said.
“Verily, there is no actual rebellion in Marawi City and elsewhere in Mindanao,” he added.
Atty. Cristina Yambot of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) which represents the Makabayan lawmakers, noted that there were no instances of terror attacks and the like in other areas of Mindanao.
“Absent the existence of actual rebellion in the entire Mindanao, there is thus no justification to place the entire Mindanao region under Martial Law and to likewise suspend the writ [of habeas corpus] in the same area,” she said.
Atty. Ephraim Cortez, also of NUPL, stressed that the 1987 Philippine Constitution itself had provisions preventing the declaration of martial law without an actual rebellion.
“It is now explicitly required that it (martial law) may only be declared and the writ (of habeas corpus) suspended if there is actual rebellion or invasion and when public safety so requires,” he said.
Atty. Marlon Manuel, representing the four women petitioners from Marawi City, said that even without declaring martial law, the military can stop the threats of the Maute Group.
“Under the 1987 Constitution, martial law must be an instrument of last resort,” he noted.
‘Why so worried?’
Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo grilled Lagman during the latter’s interpolation, repeatedly asking whether Lagman was not worried about the ongoing hostilities between government forces and the Maute group in Marawi City, which has entered its third week.
“The military casualty as of Sunday is already 58 soldiers, congressman, dead soldiers of ours. And there are 35,000 evacuees that are now in Iligan City. So for you, the situation is still not serious for martial law? I mean, martial law will only be with us for 60 days, assuming that he won’t lift the proclamation earlier,” he said.
Del Castillo also questioned “why we’re so worried” about the declaration of martial law, given the safeguards placed by the 1987 Constitution.
Lagman, for his part, admitted that some developments in Marawi City were indeed alarming, such as the alleged presence of foreign-born fighters helping the Maute Group as well as the raising of the IS flag in some areas of Marawi.
He reiterated that the mere presence of the Maute Group is still not grounds for the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
He also said the raising of the Isis flag were done not to replace the authority of the local government unit in Marawi, as said by Del Castillo, but rather, it was but “cheap propaganda that they have been using for a long time already.”
No rebellion in other parts of Mindanao
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio questioned the existence of a rebellion in Mindanao which could justify the declaration of martial law in the whole region.
He asked Lagman if there were any actual acts of rebellion in other parts of Mindanao such as in the Agusan provinces, in Misamis and in Surigao, to which Lagman replied in the negative.
Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin and Estela Perlas-Bernabe both told the petitioners to put forward evidence that would prove that the president indeed committed a grave abuse in declaring martial law in Mindanao.
Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said martial law should have clearer guidelines because “it has real effects.”