'Martial law a political solution'

- Reinir Padua -

MANILA, Philippines - President Arroyo’s declaration of martial law may be intended as a “political solution” to absolve the Ampatuans of murder and pin them only for rebellion, which is bailable and subject to amnesty, according to the Liberal Party.

In its statement, the LP explained that under martial law, the crimes of murder, rape and kidnapping – all non-bailable offenses – allegedly committed by members of the Ampatuan clan and their supporters may be absorbed into the crime of rebellion.

“Except for its leaders, supporters of the rebellion are bailable. And worse all those charged with rebellion may be subject to amnesty,” the party statement said yesterday.

Among the members of the Ampatuan clan who are top officials in the province, only Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. has been charged with several counts of murder in connection with the Nov.23 massacre in Ampatuan town that left 57 people dead including journalists.

The LP said it is preparing to contest the declaration before the Supreme Court adding that it doesn’t expect the administration-dominated congress to repeal it.

At a hastily called press conference, LP presidential candidate Sen. Benigno Aquino III, his running mate Sen. Manuel Roxas II and former Senate president Franklin Drilon stressed there was no basis for the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao.

“The Constitution is clear: Martial law can only be declared upon the existence of an actual invasion or rebellion, and when public safety requires it,” the party said in a statement.

“Such grounds do not exist to justify the proclamation of martial law in the Province Maguindanao,” it said.

“I don’t expect Congress to lift it. In a joint session, the Senate would lose,” Drilon said.

“While the Constitution expects both houses to merge for the purpose of voting on this specific imposition of martial law, it also expects our lawmakers never to surrender their identity as representatives of the people,” Aquino, LP standard bearer, said. 

“I appeal to my colleagues in Congress to come together immediately and ascertain the validity of this imposition. Congress must muster a quorum. Congress must not be a rubber stamp. Congress must ask the right questions, and it must act now,” Aquino said.

Roxas said that with the martial law declaration, the government has only worsened the situation in Maguindanao.

“Firm and effective law enforcement is the answer to the problem,” he said.

The party also raised the likelihood that the declaration was to cover up the discovery of several government-issued firearms and ammunition in the Ampatuan compound.

“Is it to impose such overwhelming control so that there can be no leaks of information and suppress evidence of the electoral fraud and other crimes? Is it meant to re-establish control of the alleged massive electoral fraud machinery in time for the 2010 elections? Is this a test case for implementing martial law rule in the entire country in order to perpetuate this administration in power indefinitely?” the party asked.

Aquino also said that should Congress uphold the declaration, even ordinary citizens may question it before the High Tribunal. 

Linked to elections

Former senator Francisco Tatad said he is concerned martial law might also be declared in other provinces or worse in the whole country as part of a scenario to derail next year’s elections.

“The cure may be worse than the disease. After Maguindanao, what’s next?”

Tatad, information officer of the dictator Marcos when martial law was declared in 1972, said President Arroyo’s declaration was unjustified.

He said Mrs. Arroyo should have just suspended the writ of habeas corpus to facilitate the arrest of the Ampatuans instead of declaring martial law.

Tatad said that unlike the 1935 Constitution, used as basis by the late dictator for imposing military rule, the 1987 Constitution empowers Congress to lift martial law.

“The Supreme Court has final say on whether the declaration of martial law is justified,” Tatad told reporters at the weekly Kapihan sa Sulo Hotel.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., for his part, said that by declaring martial law in Maguindanao, the administration might be preparing to manipulate the coming elections. He said he was wondering why Mrs. Arroyo had to declare martial law when violence in Maguindanao had relatively eased.

“Bantayan nating mabuti, tingnan natin kung ano ang katuwiran sa pag deklara ng martial law (Let’s watch closely, let’s see the real reason for the martial law declaration),” he added.

Joint session

Meanwhile, the Senate and the House of Representatives will convene a joint session on Tuesday to tackle President Arroyo’s declaration of martial law.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said he has talked with Speaker Prospero Nograles regarding the matter.

Enrile said he has instructed Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri to make the necessary arrangements.

The Senate chief said they were expecting Mrs. Arroyo to submit a report to Congress on her martial law order within 48 hours.

Tomorrow, Enrile said he would open the Senate session at 9 a.m. and then call for a caucus among the senators to see what they should do under the circumstances.

Enrile said the martial law imposition was purely an executive prerogative as stated in the Constitution.

Enrile said it could be enforced for 60 days unless Congress revokes it after the submission of the President’s report.

The Senate president said Congress would have to review the reasons to be given by the President for making the declaration.

Enrile also squelched speculations that the Palace was only testing the waters and was planning to impose martial law in other areas, especially during the elections.

“How can you do that when there is no disorder?” 

More denunciation

Several senators have also voiced opposition to martial law in Maguindanao.

“It is unfortunate that the declaration of Martial Law has been resorted to after the government appeared reluctant to go all-out against those responsible for the Maguindanao massacre,” Sen. Manuel Villar, Nacionalista Party standard-bearer, said.

“The state of emergency should have already been enough to dismantle the private armies operating in the province. We don’t even need to declare Martial Law in Maguindanao, we only have to enforce existing laws,” Villar said.

“We support all efforts for the swift delivery of justice for the murdered victims of Maguindanao massacre, we need a justice that is without fear and favor. Aside from bringing the perpetrators behind bars, the government must dismantle private armies with dispatch and that can be done without declaring Martial Law,” Villar said.

“While we support the military and police in their effort to instill peace and order in Mindanao, the Nacionalista Party points out two specific acts we must guard against as offshoots on the declaration of Martial Law in the area. First is that the joint session of Congress must not be used to convene a constituent assembly. Second is that the presence of Ampatuans and related clans in other areas like Metro Manila must not be used to justify the expansion of Martial Law,” NP spokesman Gilbert Remulla said.

NP senatorial candidate Adel Tamano also said martial law is not the right approach to the Maguindanao problem.

“You do not solve it by committing an outrage on the rights of Mindanaoans, specifically those of Muslim Mindanao by declaring unconstitutional Martial Law,” Tamano said.

“The lack of actual – not merely possible or imminent – rebellion shows the illegality of the declaration. While all Filipinos, Mindanaoans especially, want swift justice against the monsters who committed the massacre, it must be done within the bounds of law,” he added.

“The current state of emergency would have sufficed to address the clamor for justice for the massacre victims and restore the rule of law in the province. For the longest time, this government has tolerated and promoted the culture of warlordism in Mindanao. Now, it seeks to be a warlord to undo what it has done,” Sen. Francis Escudero said.

“Truth is all key personalities are now under police custody. The factual basis for a martial law declaration therefore appears to be inexistent,” Sen. Francis Pangilinan, for his part, said.

Senator Zubiri said the declaration was “like shooting a mosquito with a cannon.”

Sen. Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, who is also a presidential aspirant, said the declaration was an “overkill.”

“Is this the way to punish her political lackeys by further terrorizing the people? Why only now and not immediately after the murders?” she asked.

“She could arrest the Ampatuans (father and son) without declaring martial law,” Madrigal said. 


Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr. said the declaration was an “overkill.”

“It’s overkill in the sense that it may frighten our people about the possibility that it could be extended to other areas, including the seat of government here in Metro Manila,” the former Speaker told a news conference.

“Bombard the area with projects and reverse years of neglect. This is the only way that peace can be made durable in the area,” LP senatorial candidate Ralph Recto said.

“The reported massing of armed groups do not yet constitute rebellion and can be dealt with under the President’s proclamation of a state of emergency in the area,” party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo said.

Senate defenders

But Sen. Joker Arroyo said martial law declaration showed the government’s swift response to the Maguindanao carnage.

“The government has now responded to impose Martial Law not nationwide or the entire Philippines, but limited only to the province of Maguindanao and not beyond its borders and adjacent provinces. The proclamation affects roughly 250,000 Maguindanaoans, not the entire 85 million Filipinos,” Arroyo said.

“The situation meets the standards under the Constitution for imposing Martial Law. The objective is to dismantle the private army of the Ampatuans and all others in Mindanao, and to confiscate the guns and weapons,” he said.

Sen. Richard Gordon said martial law should have been declared immediately after the massacre but only in Maguindanao.

“Now that it has been declared, the President should formally report to Congress about the declaration,” Gordon said, adding the government should now take steps to collect illegal firearms and bring back peace and order in the province.

“They only have 60 days to do that,” Gordon said. 

Administration standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro said Malacañang must immediately justify its declaration of Proclamation 1959 placing Maguindanao under martial rule.

“Within forty-eight hours from the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the President shall submit a report in person or in writing to the Congress,” Teodoro said. with Jess Diaz, Rainier Ronda, Jaime Laude, Eva Visperas, Perseus Echeminada, Aurea Calica

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