Human rights chief urges 'extra vigilance'


Posted at Dec 05 2009 06:15 PM | Updated as of Dec 06 2009 02:33 AM

MANILA – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Saturday urged the public to be extra vigilant after President Arroyo declared a state of martial law in the province of Maguindanao.

CHR Chairperson Leila De Lima said in a radio interview that they will exert their “best efforts to monitor what is happening in connection with that declaration” as well as look into the basis for Malacanang’s move.

"We have to monitor the human rights situation there. You know what martial law can do to the basic rights of citizens," De Lima said in a press statement.

On Saturday, martial law was declared over the province of Maguindanao through Proclamation No. 1959. The coverage extends to the province except for identified areas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) separatists.
“We are unable at this time to make an informed judgment on the propriety of the declaration. The factual basis of either the existence of a rebellion or an impending and inevitable rebellion cannot be independently verified at the moment,” she said.  

“We are not sure if there is a factual deprivation of executive power in Maguindanao. I am not fully convinced that circumstances truly merit a declaration of martial law. Calls for swift justice on the Maguindanao massacre and the presence or massing of armed groups may not be enough basis for such declaration. Full force of the law, not martial law, is the form of decisive governmental intervention that the public expects," De Lima said in another radio interview.

The CHR chief urged people to exercise extra vigilance and scrutiny against possible human rights abuses.

Vigilance vs outbreak of violence

“The situation is already volatile as it is without martial law, and now we have to be able to carefully monitor how exactly the declaration changes the atmosphere in Maguindanao," De Lima said.

The privileges of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended in areas covered by the proclamation.

"For now, it must be reiterated that everyone must be extremely vigilant of the safety of the inhabitants of Maguindanao. This not only includes their safety against abusive applications of a suspended privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus, but also against a very real possibility of an outbreak of armed violence, by rebellion or otherwise, by known or unknown protagonists," she said.

She pointed out that even before martial law was declared, CHR had been reiterating its call for the security and safety of residents, probers and journalists in Maguindanao.

“We do not know what kind of violence may detonate in such an unstable situation," she said.

"The CHR is gravely concerned about the possibility of warrantless arrests carried out in relation to the declaration or arbitrary detentions perpetrated in violation of the limits on martial law and other laws. But we are also equally concerned about public safety since there are reports that certain areas are without functioning government services, police precincts, courts and prosecutorial services. Public safety must not be lost from our field of vision now that we are training our sights on the effect of the martial law declaration," she said.