SC starts oral arguments on petitions vs. ML extension

MANILA -- The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday started the two-day oral arguments on the four petitions assailing the constitutionality of the full-year extension of martial law in Mindanao.

The four consolidated petitions against martial law in Mindanao, filed by the groups of opposition lawmakers led by Albay First District Representative Edcel Lagman, Lumad leader Eufemia Campos Cullamat, human rights groups and militant groups; former Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales; and the group led by Christian Monsod.

Petitioners argued anew that there is no factual basis required by the 1987 Constitution to justify the extension of martial law, claiming that the administration has even admitted that there is no actual rebellion in Mindanao.

The groups cited President Duterte's admission that the government has achieved victory over the ISIS-linked Maute terror group in October last year after a nearly five-month campaign to oust them from Marawi city.

They pointed out that the grounds raised by the executive branch in extending martial law, which was approved by Congress, "do not rise to the level of rebellion that constitutes a threat to public safety as contemplated by the Constitution."

With this, petitioners stressed that the extension order violated the constitutional provisions which only allowed the imposition of martial law when there was actual rebellion or invasion and when the operations of civilian government were substantially impaired that public safety required its declaration.

According to Monsod, the framers of the 1987 Constitution included the martial law provision despite its past horrors because we want to cover an extraordinary situation. That is why the provision is specific, extraordinary and ultimate.

"Martial law is supposed to be for exceptional case. We made the window smaller for declaration of martial law. We took away imminent danger, insurrection and the likes," Monsod recalled, who is one of the drafters of the Constitution and member of the 1986 constitutional commission.

Monsod told the SC that its decision in July last year upholding President Duterte's martial law declaration "seems to say that it is a measure of first resort rather than a last resort.

He also reminded the justices of their duty to review the factual basis of the extension of martial law, arguing that there is no existing rebellion or invasion to justify it.

You asked your honor why are we relying more on 15 justices rather than 292 Congressmen and 24 Senators [because] that is the essence of the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances in our Constitution and there is a vetting process by which the 15 justices are assumed to have the wisdom, experience and the fortitude to stand up to the other powers of government, Monsod told the high court during the oral argument.

The Office of the Solictor General (OSG) is expected to represent the respondents led by President Rodrigo Duterte in the oral arguments.

Solicitor General Jose Calida already sought the dismissal of the petitions for lack of basis.

The declaration of martial law is an act of the President. The extension, on the other hand, is the prerogative of the Congress, Calida said.

It follows that the judicial review of the proclamation of martial law is different from judicial review of the extension, he said.

According to Calida, the President requests the martial law extension but it is the Congress that extends martial law, if it finds that invasion or rebellion persists and public safety requires it.

In view of the presumption of constitutionality accorded to the extension of martial law, it is incumbent upon all the petitioners to overturn the presumption, meaning, show facts that the extension is without basis, Calida opined.

These Petitions rail against the extension of the martial law because Marawi has been liberated, and there is no rebellion, or the communist rebellion in Mindanao allegedly does not endanger public safety to warrant the extension and suspension, Calida said.

It should be noted that Marawi is not the entire Mindanao. The liberation of Marawi did not signal the end of the rebellion in the whole of Mindanao, said the solicitor general.

The SC will continue the oral arguments on Wednesday at 10 am as the high court has summoned Defense Secretary and martial law administrator Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Rey Leonardo Guerrero and Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Director General Roland dela Rosa to appear on the public hearing.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno ordered Lagman to submit reports of the CHR certifications he just mentioned in their petition while Colmenares was also ordered to submit various reports.

Sereno also ordered Calida to submit the Operational Directive of the Chief of Staff to the area command in Mindanao.

But Calida asked the magistrates for another executive session because of the confidentiality of the contents.

Sereno said that during the oral arguments for the original martial law declaration last year, there were objections to the executive session and it turned out that the information was not confidential.

The petitioners objected to Calida's manifestation as Colmenares said it would be unfair if there were documents that were not shown to them and suggested not to give an executive session based on general allegations.

Sereno said that it depends on the records that would be brought by the OSG to determine if there would be executive session on the continuation of oral arguments on Wednesday morning.

Source: Philippine News Agency