MANILA - Albay Representative Edcel Lagman questioned the existence of rebellion or invasion in Mindanao, one of the grounds that President Rodrigo Duterte cited in declaring martial law in the southern Philippine island.
In his opening statement during oral arguments at the Supreme Court Tuesday, Lagman said all the petitioners condemned the acts of terrorism committed in Marawi City by local criminal groups, but said such acts do not necessarily equate to rebellion or invasion.
The 1987 Constitution allows the declaration of martial law only "in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it." The effectivity of the declaration may only last for 60 days. Congress may affirm or revoke the declaration upon review, and may even extend the period.
"Rebellion has a culpable purpose: removing the Philippines or a part thereof from allegiance to the republic, or preventing the President or the legislature from exercising their powers and prerogatives," Lagman explained, citing the 1987 Constitution.
'MARAWI CONFLICT GOV'T INITIATED'
The lawmaker added that the conflict in Marawi City was "government initiated" as stated on President Duterte's report on martial law submitted to the Congress.
"The armed confrontation was precipitated by a military operation to neutralize an armed resistance by the Maute group to seal [Isnilon] Hapilon from capture, not to takeover Marawi and remove its allegiance to the republic," he said.
Lagman added that even the requirement of public safety was not justified by the statements by military officials hours or even minutes prior to the declaration of martial law by Duterte, who was in Moscow, Russia at that time.
A timeline of the Marawi conflict shows National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon saying the military was in full control of the situation at 7:28 p.m. on May 23.
President Duterte declared martial law around 11 p.m. (Manila time) of the same day.
Lagman is just one of the petitioners seeking to nullify the President's declaration of martial law on May 23, after clashes erupted between government troops and the Islamic State-linked Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups.
TERROR PLOT NOT A GROUND FOR MARTIAL LAW
Maria Cristina Yamboy, counsel to petitioners belonging to various human rights and activist organizations, agreed with Lagman's argument, saying Duterte's declaration was not based on actual rebellion but on threats by terrorists.
"The report to Congress point to a plan by Maute to establish Daesh wilayat covering the entire Mindanao," the lawyer said in her opening statement.
"Instead of being anchored on the existence of actual rebellion, the proclamation is based on a mere threat or, at best, an imminent threat," she added.
Yamboy stressed that "imminent threat" was already removed in the 1987 Constitution as a basis for declaring martial law or suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
"Capability, capacity, plans or objectives are not sufficient factual basis to conclude the existence of rebellion in Mindanao," she added.
The petitioners include ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio, Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas, Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Jane Elago, and militant leaders Renato Reyes, Jr., Cristina Palabay, Eufemia Campos Cullamat, Virgilio Lincuna, Ateliana Hijos, Roland Cobrado, Carl Anthony Olalo, Roy Jim Balanghig, Amaryllis Enriquez, Mae Paner, Gabriela Krista Dalena, Anna Isabelle Estein, Mark Vincent Lim, Vencer Mari Crisostomo and Jovita Montes.
Petitioners in a separate case include Marawi City residents Norkaya Mohamad, Sittie Nur Dyhanna Mohamad, Noraisah Sani and Zahria Muti-Mapandi, represented by constitutionalist Christian Monsod.
They argued that there was no factual basis for Proclamation No. 216, which, aside from imposing martial law in the southern region, also suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the area, allowing warrantless arrests.