SolGen: No reason to be 'haunted' by past martial law experience

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 17 2018 01:41 PM | Updated as of Jan 17 2018 01:42 PM

A column of military vehicles is seen crossing a bridge on the way to the conflict area in Marawi City in a photo taken last June 28, 2017. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The government's top lawyer on Wednesday said the Constitution would remain in effect even with the extension of martial law in Mindanao.

Solicitor General Jose Calida made the statement as the Supreme Court resumed oral arguments on petitions seeking to invalidate the year-long extension of military rule in Mindanao.

In his opening statement, Calida told magistrates that the petitioners have no reason to be "haunted" by the country's past experience under the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, whose authoritarian rule saw human rights abuses. 

He said the present martial rule is implemented within the bounds of the law. 

"All the petitioners are haunted by the martial law past. There is no reason for them to feel that way. The Court in Lagman (the petition against the initial martial law declaration) dutifully noted that martial law does not suspend the operation of the Constitution, neither does it supplant operation of civil courts or legislative assemblies," he said.

"The guarantees under the bill of rights will remain in place," he added.

Calida was referring to the court's July 2017 ruling that upheld President Rodrigo Duterte's May 23, 2017 declaration of a 60-day martial law in Mindanao amid firefights in Marawi City, an act that Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and other petitioners questioned before the High Court.

Lagman is also among petitioners in four pleas against the extension of martial law in Mindanao until the end of this year. 

The other petitioners are members of the Makabayan bloc in the House of the Representatives, former Commission on Human Rights chairperson Etta Rosales, and former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Christian Monsod.

During the first round of oral arguments Tuesday, petitioners alleged that the year-long extension is "unconstitutional" as it lacks factual basis, citing the absence of actual firefights in Mindanao.

Calida, meanwhile, argued that petitioners, who are mostly based in Manila, cannot dispute the assessment of state forces that public safety requires the extension of martial rule in Mindanao.

"None of the petitioners can rightfully dispute the security assessment made by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the PNP (Philippine National Police) showing that there is still rebellion in Mindanao and that public safety requires the extension of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus," he said.

He added that the government has maintained respect for rule of law.

"President Duterte has not violated these safeguards. The AFP office in charge of receiving complaints has not received any complaints regarding alleged human rights violations," he said.

Calida also noted that petitioners have not presented facts to disprove the military's claim that the extension of martial law would help quell the threat of terrorism.

Congress last year approved President Rodrigo Duterte's request to extend martial law anew in Mindanao, as he cited remaining security threats despite the end of hostilities in Marawi City. 

He was initially granted an extension until Dec. 31 last year.