The late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos was touted to be a brilliant lawyer. Rodrigo R. Duterte, who idolizes the tyrant, prides himself on having been a prosecutor. But as the country’s presidents, each in his own time, both made erroneous public pronouncements about rebellion as a political offense.
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is no lawyer. As president who had declared a state of national emergency, she followed Marcos’ faulty prosecution tack under martial law. Thus she also bungled in handling rebellion as a legal weapon to persecute her political opponents then seated in Congress.
My personal experiences bear out the folly of Marcos and Arroyo. But let me begin with President Duterte’s blunder. Recently, echoing his military and security advisers, he tagged the human rights coalition Karapatan, the militant labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno, and the national organization of jeepney drivers and operators Piston as “legal fronts” of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
That’s one error enough. But he went further out to egregiously accuse these organizations of committing rebellion then and there. A PhilStar.com report quoted him, in a speech in Camarines Sur, as having said:
“It’s one big conspiracy. But they (Karapatan, KMU, and Piston) are all at the same time – all of them –committing right now rebellion.”
(The accusation was in relation to the two-day nationwide transport strike initiated by Piston in opposition to the administration program to phase out old jeepneys under a public utility vehicle modernization program. The strike caused Duterte to suspend work in government offices and classes in all schools.)
That remark sparked numerous criticisms. The president was dead wrong in citing rebellion, it was pointed out, because Article 134 of the Revised Penal Code (as amended in 1990) defines rebellion as “rising publicly and taking arms against the government for the purpose of removing from the allegiance to said government, or its laws, the territory of the Republic of the Philippines or any part thereof, of any body of land, naval or other armed forces, or depriving the Chief Executive or the Legislature, wholly or partially, of any of their powers or prerogatives.”
“A dangerous precedent,” the Movement Against Tyranny warned. Duterte’s categorically labelling the transport strike as an act of rebellion could mean that the administration considers similar exercises of the right to assemble and seek redress to also be acts of rebellion. “It might be taken by his rabid supporters as a go-signal to file harassment cases against protesters, engage in political persecution, or worse, spur state security forces and state-backed vigilante groups to target the opposition and government critics,” the group said.
“A foreboding of worse things to come,” said the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), decrying that Duterte is “unilaterally revising the law and reinterpreting it.”
The advocacy group recalled that Marcos and Arroyo “routinely charged activists, dissenters and critics with the political offense of rebellion to silence, intimidate, or punish them.” It probably lumped Arroyo with Marcos because the former (now a congresswoman allied with Duterte) practically copied the latter’s declaration of martial law in 1972 when she declared a state of national emergency in 2006.
Earlier that year, had Arroyo created the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG), which was tasked to prepare and file trumped-up charges against those that her regime deemed “enemies of the state.”
Take note: The IALAG was abolished in 2009 but recently, the Duterte government formed IACLA (Inter-Agency Committee for Legal Action) to “expedite the prosecution of cases against the New People’s Army and other armed groups that commit atrocities against the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”
And who did the IALAG first target for prosecution, or more aptly, political persecution? It was the small but cohesive bloc of progressive partylist legislators in the House of Representatives (six, including me), which sharply criticized the Arroyo regime’s corruption, abuses, and human rights violations. We were charged with rebellion – yes, rebellion – even as we were carrying out our electoral mandate. But the House gave us sanctuary, allowing us to evade arrest. We practically lived in our offices for 71 days and nights, attending all plenary sessions. The media dubbed us the “Batasan 6.”
We raised our case to the Supreme Court. The following year, in July 2007, the SC ordered the Regional Trial Court handling the case to dismiss it for lack of merit. The 30 boxes of prosecution evidence proved to be all trash. The high court rebuked the Secretary of Justice (who co-headed the IALAG with the national security adviser) and warned the state prosecutors against allowing themselves to be used as tools for political persecution.
That was the second time I was charged with rebellion. The first was in 1978, two years after my first arrest, under martial law. Altogether, we were almost a hundred political detainees included in the charge sheet. Tried before a full military commission, prosecuted by military lawyers, and defended by civilian counsels (Jose W. Diokno, Lorenzo M. Tanada, Juan T. David, Joker Arroyo), the case dragged on for eight years. To Marcos’ frustration, his prosecutors couldn’t prove their charge.
He couldn’t have blamed his prosecutors. Marcos himself wilfully twisted the lawful concept of rebellion – much like Duterte – when he rationalized his refusal to heed numerous written petitions here and abroad for my freedom, with this public statement: “He cannot be released. He continues to commit rebellion in prison.” Thus, in 1985 I seized the opportunity to escape from my prolonged and unjust imprisonment.
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Published in Philippine Star
Oct. 21, 2017