MANILA, Philippines ? One of the drafters of the 1987 Constitution has also asked the Supreme Court to nullify President Macapagal-Arroyo?s imposition of martial law in Maguindanao purportedly to effect the arrest of members of the powerful Ampatuan clan believed responsible for the Nov. 23 massacre of 57 people.
In a petition filed Thursday, Christian Monsod, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission and a former chair of the Commission on Elections, and Ateneo de Manila University lawyer Carlos Medina Jr. said there was no factual basis for Presidential Proclamation No. 1959 because there was no actual rebellion or invasion?the only grounds for martial law that are allowed under the Constitution.
A similar petition was filed on Wednesday by lawyers led by University of the Philippines law dean Marvic Leonen, Akbayan party-list representatives, and residents of Maguindanao.
The number of petitions filed with the Supreme Court questioning the martial law proclamation now totals seven.
Only Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, other Cabinet officials, and the heads of the Armed Forces and Philippine National Police were named as respondents in the two latest petitions.
While Congress is debating whether to uphold PP 1959, the Supreme Court has given the government until Dec. 14 to reply to the petitions.
Grasping at straws
In their petition, Monsod and Medina said there was ?absolutely no factual or legal basis to support the finding of existence of rebellion.?
They said there was no declaration by the Ampatuans or their supporters of an intent to overthrow the government, or of any public uprising by them that would endanger public safety.
Monsod and Medina also said there was ?no showing that the alleged failure to function of the local judicial system and other government mechanisms in Maguindanao endangered public safety.?
?It is evident that the President and respondent (Ermita) are desperately grasping at straws and ascribing political motive where there is clearly none,? they said.
They added that the exercise of Ms Arroyo?s power as Commander in Chief to call out the military had sufficiently ensured public safety.
In their own petition, Leonen et al. said the Cabinet officials? public statements to back the President?s decision to impose martial law in Maguindanao ?do not establish existence of an actual rebellion that would justify the issuance of [PP] 1959.?
Leonen?s co-petitioners include lawyers Theodore Te and Ibarra Gutierrez, Akbayan Representatives Walden Bello and Risa Hontiveros, former Akbayan Rep. Etta Rosales, and Maguindanao residents Baileng Mantawil, Dengco Saban and October Chio.
No armed uprising
Leonen et al. said the report submitted by Ermita to Congress also ?fails to establish the existence of rebellion.?
?The mere presence of armed groups without a clearer statement as to their actual identity or purpose cannot be taken to inevitably and automatically imply the face of rebellion or invasion,? they said, adding:
?All there is, is a vague assertion that local governments and courts in the area have ceased, refused or have otherwise been unable to perform their functions.?
They also pointed out that rebellion required a ?public armed uprising, and no assertion of this sort has been made, much less substantiated.?
They added: ?It should be apparent that the mere closure of government offices does not inescapably lead to the conclusion that the Chief Executive has been deprived of her powers, much less that the territory serviced by these same offices has been removed from allegiance to the government.?
The previous five petitions were filed by lawyers led by former Senate President Jovito Salonga, former UP law dean Raul Pangalangan and Harry Roque Jr.; Ampatuan defense counsel Sigfrid Fortun and fellow lawyer Albert Lee Angeles; Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen (1st district); the National Union of People?s Lawyers and leftist groups; and law student Joseph Nelson Loyola.
The petitioners all insisted there was no factual basis for PP 1959.
Murder, not rebellion
The group called Former Senior Government Officials (FSGO) warned that the imposition of martial law in Maguindanao could be a pretext to clear the Ampatuans of involvement in the massacre and control the vote-rich province for the 2010 elections.
In a statement, the FSGO aired concerns that the steps being taken by the government under martial law might be ?successfully challenged? in the Supreme Court and eventually ?allow the murderers to go scot-free? on technicalities.
?While seemingly answering the public clamor for justice for the victims, the Arroyo administration may be laying the foundation for justice to be denied,? the FSGO said.
?It was murder in Mindanao, not rebellion. Being staunch allies of the Arroyo administration, it is incredible for the Maguindanao leaders to go against that administration,? it said.
Apprehension has been aired that under martial law, the Ampatuans would be charged with rebellion only, that the murder charge would be subsumed under it, and that after conviction, they could seek amnesty.
But Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera has said the rebellion and murder charges would be pursued separately.
The FSGO also said it was concerned that PP 1959 allowed the administration ?to control an area known to deliver the votes during elections...?
The Ampatuans delivered huge votes for Ms Arroyo and the administration ticket in the 2004 and 2007 elections.
Echoing earlier observations, the FSGO said it was ?deeply concerned? that Maguindanao ?may be a pilot test for martial law in other parts of the country and eventually the whole Philippines.?
It said that by declaring martial law, Ms Arroyo had lost her right to remain in power.
?The declaration of martial law is the desperate move of an administration that has lost the trust of the Filipino people. It is an administration that is unable to govern [and] that has lost its right to remain in power,? the FSGO said.
It called on Ms Arroyo to quit the presidency, ?so that her successor may lift the declaration of martial law, restore peace and order using police powers, and preside over clean and honest elections in May 2010.? With a report from TJ Burgonio