SolGen to SC: Junk petitions urging Congress to review martial law

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 27 2017 05:08 PM

Solicitor General Jose Calida George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

The Office of the Solicitor General on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to junk petitions calling for Congress to review the martial law declaration in Mindanao. 

"There is no duty on the part of Congress to vote jointly except to revoke or extend the proclamation of martial law and/or suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus," OSG said in its consolidated comment to the SC.

The 40-page comment, filed on behalf of respondents House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, stressed there was no neglect on the part of Congress since "[i]n fact, there was no duty on its part to convene and express support [for] the proclamation of martial law."

The President issued Proclamation No. 216, or the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, on May 23 in response to the Marawi siege. The battle for control of the city entered its 35th day on Tuesday.

The OSG stressed that the 1987 Constitution provided safeguards to prevent any abuse on the declaration of martial law. Congress may revoke the proclamation or extend it at the President's initiative.

"None of the various safeguards available in the Constitution mandate Congress to convene in joint session when it has no intention to revoke or extend the proclamation or suspension, as the case may be," the OSG said.

The OSG called on the high court to favorably consider the passage of two separate resolutions by both chambers of Congress in support of Proclamation No. 216, which expressed no intent to revoke the issuance.

Senate Resolution No. 49 was adopted by a majority vote of 17 affirmative votes and 5 negative votes, while House Resolution No. 1050 was concurred by a majority of the members of the House of Representatives through viva voce voting (vote of ayes and nayes).

The OSG said the SC does not have the authority to compel Congress to jointly convene and review the executive issuance by virtue of separation of powers among the three branches of government.

NO LEGAL STANDING

The OSG added that the petitioners--Alex Padilla, et al. and former Senator Wigberto Tañada, et al.--had no legal standing to challenge Proclamation No. 216.

This is because a party can only raise a constitutional question based on the following conditions: 1) the party personally suffered some actual or threatened injury because of the allegedly illegal conduct of the government; 2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action; and 3) the injury is likely to be redressed by the remedy sought.

While the Constitution grants any citizen the right to question the sufficiency of the factual bases of the proclamation of martial law or suspension of the privilege of the writ, the citizen must be able to present proof of direct injury or interest, the OSG said.

In the case of petitioner detained Senator Leila De Lima, who is among the petitioners in the Padilla, et al. petition, the OSG said she suffers no injury from Congress' refusal to jointly convene since there is no showing that she has been allowed to participate in Senate deliberations during her incarceration on drug charges.

Matters affecting national security are exceptions to the right to information and need not be disclosed to the public

Addressing the petitioners' assertion of their right to participate in a "transparent" congressional deliberation consistent with their right to information, the OSG argued that the right to information as provided in Section 7, Article III of the 1987 Constitution "is not absolute but subject to limitations imposed by law." 

"It is well-settled that there is a governmental privilege against public disclosure with respect to state secrets regarding military, diplomatic and other national security matters," the OSG said.

It cited the case of Sereno vs. National Economic and Development Authority on Feb. 1, 2016, in which the SC ruled that "the constitutional guarantee of the people's right to information does not cover security matters and intelligence information."

The OSG added that the right to information does not cover privileged information which include conversations, correspondences or discussions during congressional executive sessions.