Martial law weakens murder case vs Ampatuan: lawyer

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 14 2009 10:07 AM | Updated as of Dec 14 2009 10:08 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The declaration of martial law in Maguindanao has dealt a blow to the criminal cases filed against Datu Unsay, Maguindanao Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. and other alleged perpetrators of the November 23 massacre in Ampatuan, a lawyer for some of the massacre victims said Monday.

Lawyer Harry Roque said Proclamation 1959 imposing martial law in parts of Maguindanao has weakened the case of prosecutors since a lot of the evidence that could have been used in the murder case was obtained without warrants.

"As a lawyer of some of the victims in the massace, our case has been weakened because a lot of the evidence gathered by authorities was taken without warrants, which we can no longer use. It's what we call the fruit of the poisoned tree. If it is illegally obtained, we cannot use it in court," he told ABS-CBN's morning show "Umagang Kay Ganda."

He added: "The case weakened because martial law only states that you can do warrantless arrests for the crime of rebellion. Unfortunately, a lot of the evidence was obtained without a search warrant because of the wrong thinking that they can do illegal search and seizure without a warrant."

In defense, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said most of the evidence gathered by authorities while Maguindanao was under martial law would be used in the rebellion cases against the Ampatuans.

"The evidence we got while martial law was in effect is evidence that will be used in the rebellion cases. Insofar as the multiple murder charges are concerned, well there's the body of the crime... We will rely more on testimonial evidence. That is the explanation of the justice department," he said in the same interview.

Remonde said Malacañang is ready to defend its declaration of martial law before Congress or the Supreme Court if necessary.

President Arroyo declared a state of martial law in Maguindanao last December 5 to effect the immediate arrests of members of Ampatuan family and their armed supporters for allegedly taking up arms against the government. She later lifted the order on Saturday, December 12.

The Ampatuans have been linked to the massacre of 57 people in Ampatuan, Maguindanao last November 23.

SC ruling on martial law important

Roque urged the Supreme Court to rule on the petitions to declare as unconstitutional Proclamation No. 1959. He said a Supreme Court ruling is important since it involves a grave breach of the Constitution.

"[President Arroyo] has always tried to see how far she can go in flouting the law and then when the court nears a verdict, she will lift the order so that the issue would become moot and there would be no verdict whether the decision was right or wrong," he said.

Lawyer Christian Monsod, one of the members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, said a Supreme Court ruling is necessary to prevent a repeat of a possibly illegal proclamation of martial law. "The SC must rule on whether or not there was basis to declare martial law even though it has already been lifted," he said.

The SC had earlier deferred making a ruling on petitions seeking a temporary restraining order on the implementation of Proclamation No. 1959.

The High Court instead ordered President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Philippine National Police  to comment on the five separate petitions filed questioning the constitutionality of the proclamation. Respondents were given until December 14 to submit their comment.