By IAN IRVING BAZARTE
MANILA – Supreme Court justices have required Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces chief-of-staff Lt.Gen. Eduardo Año to attend tomorrow, June 15, the last day of oral arguments for the three consolidated petitions filed seeking to nullify President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
On the second day of the oral arguments held today, June 14, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio asked for the presence of the two officials, who are among the respondents to the petition filed by progressive groups and Makabayan bloc lawmakers.
In response, Solicitor General Jose Calida asked if Lorenzana and Año can meet with the justices and the petitioners privately in a closed-door session, citing “reasons of security.”
Rep. Edcel Lagman, lead petitioner in the petition filed by opposition lawmakers, opposed Calida’s request, saying that he has reservations regarding closed-door sessions because of his experiences in the House of Representatives.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said Calida could formally request what issues must be treated privately or publicly.
“Petitioners are actually entitled to know, but to what extent they need to know, that is a matter that you can convey to us, Solicitor General,” Sereno said.
The petitioners, in the first round of the oral arguments held yesterday, argued that there was no factual basis in Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
Duterte on the evening of May 23 issued Proclamation No. 216, placing the entirety of Mindanao under martial law following the Isis-backed Maute group’s attack and subsequent siege in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
Justice Carpio says there is no rebellion outside Marawi
In his interpellation of Calida, one of the respondents of the petitions, Carpio maintained that he had yet to see evidence of any events outside Marawi City that justified a declaration of martial law in the whole Mindanao region.
“Inside Marawi you can easily defend, but outside of Marawi, I have not seen any evidence that there’s actual rebellion in Dinagat island, Camiguin island, Misamis, Pagadian, Lanao, Dapitan, and all these places,” he added.
In response, Calida maintained that the declaration of martial law was important because it served as an “exclamation point” for the terrorists. “It’s psychological, an exclamation point, you better listen to me now because I imposed martial law,” he said.
Calida also likened martial law to drugs, saying it was Duterte’s “calling out power on steroids.”
In response, Sereno said she was “actually very much enlightened” by Calida’s metaphor, before enumerating numerous side effects of steroids.
“Well, if you are going to look at the literature from the most reliable medical websites, they [side effects] would include acne, blurred vision, cataracts, bruising, sleeping, high blood pressure, increased appetite, weight gain, increased growth of body hair, for those with high blood sugar, your blood sugar level will even increase,” she said.
“But in all these literature, they also say that steroids do not address the ill,” she added.
Exaggerated claims in President’s report to Congress
Justice Francis Jardeleza questioned Lagman’s knowledge of the events surrounding the Marawi City siege that led to Duterte signing Proclamation 216.
Jardeleza cited how the Maute group overran four streets, 13 villages and four bridges, burned a cathedral and its nuns’ quarters, took hostages and reportedly killed civilians.
Lagman said they were not aware of these incidents, but said that even if proven true, they still did not equate to a rebellion that could warrant the declaration of martial laws.
He also disputed the authenticity of government reports of certain incidents, saying that some of the incidents were exaggerated.
He gave as example the alleged takeover of the Maute group of the Amai Pakpak Medical Center, which was mentioned in the President’s report to Congress.
“There was a statement from no less than the director of the hospital that the hospital was not overrun by the Maute group and the medical personnel were not taken as hostages; the hospital is operational and has not been disrupted,” Lagman said. He added that the Maute only brought in their wounded for treatment.
Other examples of inaccurate government reports, said Lagman, included the reported burning of the Senator Ninoy Aquino College, the Marawi Central Pilot Elementary School, and the ransacking of a branch of the Land Bank of the Philippines. Lagman noted that later government reports disproved these incidents.
Lagman doubted government reports that the Maute group were funded by illegal drug money as well as foreign terrorists.
“This is a mere conclusion of law and fact and there are no adequate or sufficient basis to support these statements,” he said.
In his interpellation of Lagman, Assoc. Justice Noel Tijam asked whether Lagman would have supported a martial law declaration that came from a president other than Duterte. Lagman refused to answer, stating that the question had no bearing on the argument.
Lagman told Assoc. Justice Diosdado Peralta during the latter’s interpellation that the government still had several options that they could have used instead of declaring martial law.
“As a matter of fact, the LGUs of Marawi City, the LGUs of the entire Mindanao region are existing and operational. He can exercise his prerogatives and powers through the channel of these local government units, including the functioning departments of the government,” he said.
Peralta asked why Duterte could not declare martial law in Mindanao when Marawi City is part of Mindanao, and if he must instead declare martial law for every town where there is a rebellion. Lagman countered this by stressing that martial law can only be declared where there is an actual rebellion.