MANILA, Philippines?Lawyers led by former Senate President Jovito Salonga Monday filed five separate petitions asking the Supreme Court to nullify President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?s declaration of martial law in Maguindanao province.
The petitioners asked the high court to issue a temporary restraining order, arguing that Presidential Proclamation No. 1959 was unconstitutional because the Charter limits the ground to declare martial law to ?actual invasion or rebellion,? which they said did not exist in the province.
The Supreme Court included the petitions on the agenda of their en banc meeting on Tuesday.
On the evening of Dec. 4, Ms Arroyo imposed martial law in Maguindanao, except in controlled areas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Her aim was to crack down on the Ampatuans, who are being held responsible for the Nov. 23 massacre of 57 people, including 30 journalists.
Ms Arroyo was named as respondent in some of the petitions. The other named respondents were Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, acting Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, Interior Secretary Rolando Puno, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Ibrado and Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa.
Lawyers for the Ampatuans, Sigfrid Fortun and Albert Lee Angeles, filed a petition at 8:29 a.m., followed by Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen, who filed his own at 8:33 a.m.
The National Union of People?s Lawyers (NUPL) and militant groups filed their petition at 11:45 a.m., the same time that law student Joseph Nelson Loyola filed his.
The petition of Salonga and University of the Philippines professor Raul Pangalangan, along with lawyers Harry Roque Jr., Joel Butuyan, Emilio Capulong, Florin Hilbay, Romel Bagares, Dexter Donne Dizon, Allan Jones Lardizabal and Gilbert Andres, was filed in the afternoon.
No factual basis
The petitioners all insisted that there was no factual basis for the martial law proclamation since there was no actual rebellion or invasion.
In their petition, Salonga et al. said Article VII Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution ?limits the ground (to declare martial law) to rebellion and invasion? and ?none of these grounds are existent.?
?Nowhere in Proclamation No. 1959 were the constitutive elements of rebellion proven or even alleged. For one, the alleged establishment of positions to resist government troops by heavily armed groups does not automatically amount to a public uprising?an essential element of the crime of rebellion,? they said.
The petitioners insisted that the massacre was a ?police matter? that has been addressed by the President?s declaration of a state of emergency.
They claimed that Ms Arroyo did not follow the ?sequence of graduated powers? under the Constitution when she declared martial law and simultaneously suspended the writ of habeas corpus.
?Declaration of martial law through Proclamation No. 1959 is a classic example of recklessly resorting to a ?strong medicine,?? said Salonga and his fellow petitioners.
They pointed out that Ms Arroyo did not declare martial law to suppress the MILF, which reaches a far greater scope of influence than the Ampatuans.
They also said that not even former President Joseph Estrada declared martial law when his administration went on an all-out war against the MILF in 2000.
Dilangalen said mere ?threats of rebellion? could not be a valid ground for the declaration of martial law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
?There is absolutely no public uprising and taking up of arms against the government in the area covered by the assailed proclamation. It is, in fact, in the excluded area, said to be controlled by the MILF, that the elements of rebellion may be attendant,? he said.
Dilangalen added that the ?alleged presence of heavily armed groups in the province, which have allegedly established positions to resist government troops, is highly speculative and more imagined than real.?
He said the election-related multiple murders could at best be considered a mere police matter.
?It is, therefore, manifestly clear that Proclamation No. 1959 has no sufficient factual basis and, therefore, must be struck down as unconstitutional,? Dilangalen said.
In his petition, Fortun said it was ironic that when martial law was declared, some residents fled to neighboring provinces to avoid harassment from the military.
He claimed that the local judicial system was ?fully operational,? while the government machinery was ?functional? since the national government had taken over the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Maguindanao is part of the ARMM, which also includes Marawi City and the provinces of Sulu, Lanao del Sur, Tawi-Tawi, and Basilan.
?The alleged incapability of the provincial government is solely attributable to the national government,? Fortun said, protesting the military barricade outside the residences of the Ampatuans.
?The (Ampatuan) officials were restrained and were not allowed to move freely. They were prevented from performing their functions. Must they now be blamed for the consequences, which they were in the first place deprived of any opportunity to prevent?? he said.
Fortun pointed out, however, that he filed the petition not as lawyer of the Ampatuans but as a concerned lawyer.
Slain women lawyers
In the NUPL petition, Neri Colmenares, the group?s secretary general, questioned the claim of the military and executive officials about the existence of heavily armed groups in the province.
The two slain women lawyers among the 57 victims, Concepcion Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo, were NUPL members.
?Bare allegations about the alleged presence of heavily armed groups in the province of Maguindanao do not necessarily mean that there is already an actual and existing rebellion in the area covered by Proclamation No. 1959,? the NUPL said.
The NUPL filed the petition jointly with party-list Representatives Satur Ocampo (Bayan Muna) and Liza Maza (Gabriela), lawyers Julius Matibag, Ephraim Cortez, Jobert Pahilga and Voltaire Africa, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. and Anthony Ian Cruz.
They claimed that the martial law proclamation had jeopardized the prosecution of the Ampatuans, who they said were believed to be behind the massacre.
They said acts of multiple murder may be absorbed in the crime of rebellion, which could be questioned and thrown out of court since there was no overt act of rebellion committed.
They also pointed out that Ms Arroyo was never deprived of her powers and prerogatives because she was able to declare a state of emergency and call out the military to suppress lawless violence.
?The proclamation of martial law and suspension of privilege of the writ of habeas corpus are not a substitute for any incompetence of the police in the conduct of their work and investigation, or in the gathering, preservation and evaluation of evidence,? they said.