Petitioners challenging the constitutionality of the extension of Proclamation No. 216 for another year or until December 2019 and the government, through the solicitor general, submitted their respective memoranda to the high court yesterday following the one-day oral arguments on the case last Jan. 29.
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Supreme Court ready to rule on martial law extension in Mindanao
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - February 5, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court (SC) is ready to rule on the legality of the third extension of the martial law declaration in Mindanao.

Petitioners challenging the constitutionality of the extension of Proclamation No. 216 for another year or until December 2019 and the government, through the solicitor general, submitted their respective memoranda to the high court yesterday following the one-day oral arguments on the case last Jan. 29.

With the submission of all arguments by the parties, the SC has submitted the case for decision.

An insider bared that the justices would include the case in their session next Tuesday and might be able to vote and decide on it by then.

In their memorandum, petitioners led by Albay first district Rep. Edcel Lagman reiterated their claim that there was no factual basis to justify the extension of martial law in Mindanao as required by the 1987 Constitution.

They argued that the attacks by terror groups and violent incidents that took place in Mindanao last year, including four bombings cited in the report of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), were acts of terrorism and not rebellion as required by law in declaring martial law.

“The following acts of terrorism and lawless violence mentioned in the letter dated Dec. 6, 2018 of the President do not per se evince the existence of rebellion and the President failed to connect or relate said acts to rebellion or furtherance of rebellion,” petitioners insisted.

“Terrorism is not equivalent to rebellion because they differ in motive, target and scope: while terrorism has the purpose of sowing fear and panic among the populace, rebellion is an armed uprising against the government for the culpable purpose of removing the country or a portion thereof from allegiance to the Republic or preventing the President or the Congress from exercising their respective powers,” their pleading read.

Despite the recent twin bombings at the Jolo Cathedral in Sulu that killed at least 21 people, the petitioners insisted that public safety in Mindanao is not imperiled.

The petitioners also reiterated that the Court may review the factual basis of martial law proclamation, which is a task specifically assigned by the Constitution to Congress.

“The Honorable Court cannot simply defer to the factual submission of the President because to do so is to defeat its precise jurisdiction to separately and independently determine the sufficiency of the factual basis of the President’s submission,” they added.

On the other hand, Solicitor General Jose Calida cited several attacks attributed to the New People’s Army in Mindanao, which he stressed were clearly acts of rebellion.

He reiterated that the Jolo cathedral bombing is proof of the ongoing threat to public safety in Mindanao posed by local terrorist groups.

The solicitor general also cited data of the AFP that indicate there are still 424 active members of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in 138 barangays in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga; 264 members of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in 50 barangays; 59 members of Saulah Islamiyah; six members of Maguid group and 85 members of Turaifie group.

He also reiterated the influx of foreign terrorists in the country “who are responsible for training local terrorist fighters,” citing the entry of four foreign terrorist fighters last year while 60 others are on AFP’s watchlist.

Calida also argued that the decision of Congress to approve the President’s request is beyond judicial review.

“Congress has the sole prerogative to extend the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. The 1987 Constitution does not limit the period for which Congress can extend them, and prohibit the Congress from granting further extensions to the proclamation or suspension,” he pointed out.

Calida also cited the high court’s earlier ruling that upheld the previous extension of martial law, which held that there are sufficient legal safeguards against human rights abuses raised by the petitioners.

With these arguments, he asked the SC to dismiss four similar petitions filed by opposition lawmakers led by Lagman, the Makabayan bloc led by Bayan Muna party-list group Rep. Carlos Zarate, the group led by former Commission on Elections chair Christian Monsod, and the group of lumad teachers and students represented by the Free Legal Assistance Group.

The SC had already upheld the constitutionality of Proclamation No. 216 in July 2017 and also upheld its initial one-year extension in February last year.

The high court held that the extension had sufficient factual basis, as “the rebellion that spawned the Marawi incident persists.”

It said “public safety requires the extension, as shown by facts presented by the AFP.”

The SC also said that the two houses of Congress have the “full discretionary authority” to promulgate their own rules, and such power is exempt from judicial review and interference, “except on a clear showing of arbitrary and improvident use of the power such as would constitute a denial of due process.”

The high court also noted that there is no provision under the Constitution that prescribes the number of times the proclamation of martial law may be extended or the length the extended period may be.

Duterte first declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, 2017 after the Islamic State-inspired Maute group laid siege to Marawi City. Five months later, Duterte, in a rousing speech to his troops, announced the liberation of Marawi.

The AFP, however, revealed that communist rebels continued their logistical buildup and extortionary activities, which he said hinder government development efforts.

The second one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao until Dec. 31 of this year is considered invalid despite Congress’ overwhelming approval because rebellion in the region ended when government was able to retake Marawi City in October 2017.  – With Delon Porcalla

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