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'Defense chief admitted martial law not needed'

Minority senators on Tuesday claimed that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had admitted during a closed-door briefing on Monday that government security forces could contain the Maute terrorist group in Marawi City without martial law.

The admission, the lawmakers claimed, justified the need for Congress to convene in a joint session to approve, amend or revoke the martial law declaration made by President Rodrigo Duterte on May 23.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th, a known Duterte critic, said the President's basis for declaring martial law was unclear, as no less than the Defense secretary had admitted he did not make such a recommendation.

Trillanes also said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had assured the President that everything was under control.

"This is contrary to the statement of the President that he will listen to the recommendation of the military and police regarding martial law. Clearly Duterte did not listen because the AFP told him that everything is under control but martial law was still declared," Trillanes pointed out.

Lorenzana, the minority senators claimed, told them there was no point during the Marawi crisis that the military lost control of the situation.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon filed a resolution on Monday urging Congress to convene in a joint session and deliberate on the declaration of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao.

The senators cited Section 18, Article VII of the Constitution, which states: "Congress has the sacred duty and peremptory obligation to seek information surrounding and assess the factual basis for the proclamation and, if warranted, revoke the same."

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th insisted that Congress is mandated to call a joint session, based on a precedent - President Gloria Arroyo's declaration of martial law in Maguindanao province in 2009 following the massacre at Ampatuan town.

"We don't want the military and the police to take shortcuts in performing their mandate, and Congress should not do it also," Aquino told reporters.

The joint session, Aquino added, would also give security officials a chance to enlighten the public about the situation and address misinformation and fake news circulating online.

"The people are contradicting each other. Agencies are contradicting each other in terms of facts and in terms of what's really happening. We need to hear it straight from the security managers," said Aquino.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros made it clear the minority was not against the military and police operation in Marawi.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said not convening Congress in joint session would be anti-democratic.

"We have to convene even if it is ministerial. Assuming for the sake of argument that 101 percent are in favor of martial law, we still have to convene. We still have to call for a public hearing in performance of our mandate," Pangilinan said.

House opposition to go to SC

Opposition lawmakers and former government officials meanwhile are set to ask the Supreme Court to junk President Duterte's Proclamation 216 declaring martial law and suspending the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao, claiming it violated the Constitution.

Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay made the announcement as the House of Representatives convenes as a Committee of the Whole to vote in favor or against the martial law declaration, and on the same day that 15 senators signed a resolution supporting Proclamation 216.

Lagman said the House convening as the Committee of the Whole is not in accordance with the constitutional requirement which provides that Congress can revoke the 60-day martial law in joint voting by members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

"The House's Committee of the Whole cannot supplant a vote by the joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate. There are kindred groups who had a meeting yesterday to plan a definitive course of action. Filing a petition before the Supreme Court is a clear possibility, not only with respect to the refusal of the leadership to convene in joint session but also on the factual basis of martial law, which according to the Constitution, the Supreme Court has jurisdiction," Lagman said.

"We believe that this is more than a political question. There is a grave constitutional violation on the part of the leadership of the House and of the Senate in refusing to convene as a joint session. The Supreme Court has the power to review and decide on a constitutional violation," he added.

Lagman met with former Commission on Elections chairman and one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, Christian Monsod; former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay; former senator Wigberto Tañada and former government chief negotiator with communist rebels Alex Padilla, among others.

"We would like to find out the relevant factual basis for the declaration of martial law. There is a question of invasion; whether these acts of terrorism involve rebellion or insurrection; to find out whether it is justified that the entire island of Mindanao should be under martial law," Lagman told reporters.

Rep. Gary Alejano of Magdalo party-list said it was baffling that his fellow lawmakers were already expressing support to the President's decision to declare martial law without knowing its basis.

"The security officials did not even recommend the declaration of martial law. So what is the basis of the President's declaration? Our military has been conducting operations against the Maute group, which just has around 300 combatants, since last year. And yet, the Maute group was able to occupy Marawi. There are people who should be responsible for that, and we don't know who are they until now," Alejano, a former Marine captain, said.

"The Maute group is not even planning an attack. It just so happened that there is a surgical operation against Maute's Isnilon Hapilon by the Armed Forces, but the armed forces were caught flat-flooted when the enemy swarmed them in droves," Alejano said.

Robredo appeals

Vice President Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo on Tuesday called on Duterte to take back his statements wherein he expressed willingness to defy Congress and the Supreme Court in implementing martial law and suspending the writ of habeas corpus, allowing warrantless arrests for rebellion suspects, in Mindanao.

"We urge the President: take back what he said about disregarding Congress and the Supreme Court and be an example to all public servants that in the face of whatever crisis in our nation, we will all remain faithful to our Constitution and our democracy. We trust that the President realizes that such reckless statements only further add to apprehension felt by many citizens," Robredo said in a statement.

"Every public servant takes an oath to preserve and defend our Constitution. The very legitimacy of our government is based on this faithful adherence to our Constitution. We cannot deny the power of Congress and the Supreme Court to review any proclamation of Martial Law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus," Robredo, a lawyer, added.

[Source: By Jefferson Antiporda, TMT, The Manila Times, 31May17]

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small logoThis document has been published on 31May17 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.