Lawyers group to petition high court vs martial law, suspension of writ privilege

Dec. 13, 2009

“President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has gone berserk.”

This is the reaction of human rights law group National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) on the president’s issuance of Proclamation No. 1959 proclaiming a state of martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the province of Maguindanao.

It is elementary in political law that such declaration and suspension may be made only ‘in case of invasion or rebellion’ and only ‘when the public safety requires it,’ under Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

The proclamation’s third whereas clause merely invokes an element of rebellion of “depriving the Chief Executive or the Legislature, wholly or partially, of any of their powers or prerogatives.”

The proclamation’s fourth whereas clause simply says, “WHEREAS, 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.”

That is all there is to it. The proclamation did not even bother to state the particulars about the identity, extent and purpose or purposes of these ‘heavily armed groups’. How could we ascertain if the president is indeed telling us the truth?

And even assuming that the president is telling us the truth this time, the ‘presence’ of heavily armed groups in the area does not necessarily mean that there is already rebellion.

The gravamen of the felony of rebellion is the armed public uprising against the government, as clearly defined in Article 134 of the Revised Penal Code, “Rebellion or insurrection; How committed. — The crime of rebellion or insurrection is committed by rising publicly and taking arms against the Government for the purpose of removing from the allegiance to said Government or its laws, the territory of the Philippine Islands or any part thereof, of any body of land, naval or other armed forces, depriving the Chief Executive or the Legislature, wholly or partially, of any of their powers or prerogatives.”

More importantly, the powers and prerogatives of the president as the chief executive or of the legislature have never been deprived to them since the Ampatuan town massacre happened. Thus, there is no rebellion to speak of. In fact, the president has already invoked and exercised as commander-in-chief her ‘calling out power’ after the Ampatuan town massacre when the president has called out the armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence in the province.

The ‘calling out power’ is entirely different from the president’s ‘powers to declare martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus ’.

There has never been such deprivation of powers or prerogatives of the chief executive or the legislature. The president had even time to file her certificate of candidacy to run as member of the House of Representatives in next year’s elections. So where did Malacañang get the idea of such deprivation of powers or prerogatives?

Not only does the president have to prove that rebellion indeed exists, she likewise has to prove that ‘public safety requires’ the declaration of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus .

Public safety in the area can be ensured even without such declaration and suspension. The president’s exercise of her ‘calling out power’ is more than enough to prevent or suppress any lawless violence or even a supposed rebellion, if any. There is no need for the president to invoke and exercise her highest and extraordinary powers: the ‘martial law power’ and the ‘power to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus ’.

Worse, the text of Proclamation No. 1959 is clearly bereft of any sufficient factual basis for such declaration and suspension. This is an unequivocal and brazen abuse of the president’s powers under the Constitution, plain and simple. Hence, it is very obvious that Malacañang’s ‘factual basis’ is not true at all. The president is testing the outer limits of the Constitution; the president is playing fire with fundamental freedoms by placing the military above civilian authorities.

We remind the president and state security forces that a state of martial law does not suspend the operation of the Constitution. Thus, warrantless arrests of any person must still be through a lawful cause. And given the record of the military in human rights abuses, we must ensure that no torture or cruel or degrading treatment will be inflicted against anyone that may be arrested.

A person may be detained for a period of three days without even being charged due to the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

The president’s exercise of the ‘martial law and suspension of writ privilege powers’ is a patent indication that the president is a megalomaniac, a person obsessed with wealth and power. As the president’s term and immunity from suit shall expire at noon of June 30, 2010 and plunder cases and human rights abuses shall certainly be immediately filed against her, it is not impossible for her to think about placing the entire country under martial law to perpetuate herself in power and avoid punishment for her crimes.

If she desires to be another Marcos, she will fail. The people will ensure it.

On December 7, we shall immediately file a petition before the Supreme Court to question Malacañang’s sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus .

For reference:

Atty. Julius Garcia Matibag


National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers

Mobile phone number: 0927-929-3089

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