MANILA - The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) has asked the Supreme Court to dismiss a petition filed by opposition lawmakers questioning the new extension of martial law in Mindanao.
In a 50-page comment, the OSG said rebellion in Mindanao persists and only Congress has the sole prerogative to determine whether or not to extend the declaration of martial law in the area.
Lawmakers led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman had claimed in their petition that there was no sufficient factual basis for the extension, the third since President Rodrigo Duterte issued Proclamation No. 216 in May 2017 placing the entire Mindanao under martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus due to the Marawi siege.
In justifying the government’s position that rebellion persists in Mindanao, the OSG cited various violent incidents which the President raised in his December 2018 letter to Congress.
These include bombings in Basilan and Sultan Kudarat last year which killed a total of 16 people and wounded 63 others attributed to the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Front (BIFF), Daulah Islamiyah (DI) and other terrorist groups; the ASG’s kidnapping of 4 foreigners and 4 Filipinos; the death of 87 soldiers and P156 million worth of destroyed properties.
The OSG said that based on AFP’s data, these groups are in the hundreds and its members are scattered in different areas in Mindanao.
It also cited activities of the New People’s Army (NPA), claiming 369 alleged rebel-initiated violent incidents in Mindanao from January to December 2018.
“Jose Maria Sison, the founding Chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines, himself acknowledges that 75 of the total 98 maneuver battalions of the reactionary armed forces are concentrated in Mindanao,” the OSG said, relying on an earlier SC ruling dismissing Lagman’s petition questioning the second extension of martial law in Mindanao.
The high court, in the 2018 case of Lagman vs. Pimentel, said that although the NPA seeks to establish communist rule in the country while the DAESH/ISIS-inspired rebels intend to make Mindanao the seat of ISIS power in Southeast Asia, “[i]t is obvious... that even as they differ in ideology, they have the shared purpose of overthrowing the duly constituted government.”
“The ongoing scourge by the communist rebels, the ASG, and the presence of remnants of the Daesh continue to pose a clear and present danger to national security and hinder the attainment of lasting peace, stability, economic development, and prosperity in Mindanao. These rebel groups and their concerted destabilizing activities and actions constitute the very rebellion in Mindanao,” the OSG argued in its comment.
It further cited the ambush of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency officials in Lanao del Sur in October 2018 and the arrest of former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and others in December 2018 in Davao del Norte as proof that public safety requires the continued implementation of martial law in Mindanao.
Under the 1987 Constitution, the imposition of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus requires the existence of an actual invasion or rebellion and the declaration must be prompted by public safety.
“As established in Lagman v. Pimentel, the President, as commander-in-chief can rely on the intelligence reports, classified documents and other vital information to properly assess the actual conditions on the ground. Verily, these facts establish that rebellion exists and public safety requires the extension of martial law in Mindanao,” the OSG said.
The OSG’s comment relied extensively on the same SC ruling in justifying the extension of martial law even when the Marawi siege had long ended.
The five-month siege ceased in October 2017. The latest extension of martial law keeps martial rule in Mindanao until the end of the year.
“The Honorable Court recognized the fact that the attack on Marawi City has spilled over to other areas in Mindanao and has spurred attacks from other rebel and terrorist groups. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the validity of the second extension of martial law,” it said.
SOLE PREROGATIVE OF CONGRESS
The OSG also argued that Congress has the sole prerogative to determine whether or not to extend martial law in Mindanao and to determine how long the extension will be, in the absence of any prohibition in the Constitution.
According to opposition lawmakers, the Constitution did not envision a series of long extensions, only a limited period in accordance with the 60-day limit imposed on the declaration of martial law.
But the OSG said the Constitution gave the legislature a wider latitude in determining the duration of a martial law extension, citing records of the deliberations of the framers of the Constitution.
“[F]or as long as the Congress believes that the invasion or rebellion continues to exist, and the public safety requires it, the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus may be extended by the Congress, subject only to the condition that any such extension is upon the initiative of the President,” it said.
The OSG brushed aside opposition lawmakers' argument that interpellations on the martial law extension were done in haste, saying the SC could not review deliberations in Congress, as it enjoys absolute discretion to determine its own rules in conducting the joint session.
Congress, in a joint session in December voted 235-28-1 in favor or extending martial law in Mindanao.
The OSG also rejected fears that continued martial law in Mindanao will lead to human rights abuses.
“Again, in Lagman v. Pimentel, this Honorable Court was emphatic that ‘as the Court settled in Lagman v. Medialdea, et al., alleged human rights violations committed during the implementation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus should be resolved in a separate proceeding,’” it said.
The OSG faulted Lagman and the other petitioners for their failure to implead the Senate and the House of Representatives which, it said, are indispensable parties to the petition.
Consistent with its plea asking the SC to dismiss the petition, the OSG also argued that the petitioners have no clear and unmistakable legal right to prevent the extension of martial law in Mindanao.
The high court has set oral arguments on the petition on January 22 and 23. A preliminary conference has also been set on Thursday.
The SC had voted to uphold the declaration of martial law and its extension.
In its ruling in February 2018, 10 magistrates voted to uphold the extension while 5 opposed.
Of the 10, 6 are still in the SC while of the 5 who opposed, 4 remain in court.