“Whether the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao is rooted in fear, fancy, or plain and simple malevolence, its effects on people’s rights, lives and liberties are all too real.”
By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA — Lawyers from the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), the Makabayan bloc of representatives in Congress, and victims of martial law in Mindanao, Eufemia Cullamat, Noli Villanueva, and Rius Valle, argued – in a petition they filed before the Supreme Court to junk the second extension of martial law, January 8, 2018 – that the second extension of martial law is a dictatorial act of President Rodrigo Duterte to legitimize full-blown militarization and gross human rights violations in Mindanao.
“Whether the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao is rooted in fear, fancy, or plain and simple malevolence, its effects on people’s rights, lives and liberties are all too real,” the petition read.
Flimsy grounds for declaration
Two months before the expiration of the first extension of the imposition of martial law in Mindanao, Duterte himself declared that Marawi has already been liberated from Daesh-inspired fighters of the Maute group.
On October 16, 2017, the Duterte administration declared that terrorist leaders Omar Maute and Isnilon Hapilon have already been eliminated by the Philippine Army.
The following day, Duterte and Colonel Romeo Brawner, Deputy Commander of Joint Task Force Ranao, specifically formed as an anti-crime division for the Marawi ambush crisis, declared that the Maute fighters had already been defeated.
“I hereby declare Marawi City liberated from the terrorist influence that marks the beginning of the rehabilitation of Marawi,” the President said in verbatim.
With these claims from the Duterte administration itself, the petitioners said the existence of both rebellion and threat to public safety no longer exist. The 1987 Constitution requires both circumstances to concur before martial law can be declared. Thus, the second extension of martial law, inasmuch as its first extension was based on flimsy grounds, is obviously unwarranted and constitutionally infirm.
“The grounds used by Respondents to justify the extension of the proclamation is grasping at straws, and may not even be used to justify the exercise of the president’s calling out powers, much less martial law powers,” the petition read.
A dangerous precedent
“When the battle in Marawi was raging, Congress extended martial law for five months. Now that the battle in Marawi is over, Congress extends it by one year. This is absurd,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate who hails from Davao.
Referring Duterte’s letter to Congress, recommending the extension of martial law for another year, the following “dangers” and so-called rebellions were cited: the effort of the the Maute group to “rebuild their organization through recruitment and training of new members and fighters to carry on the rebellion”; that the Turaife group has been monitored “to be planning to conduct bombings”; and that the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) “continue to defy the government.”
According to Neri Colmenares of NUPL, if these reasons are accepted by the Supreme Court as legitimate and qualified as posing a “threat to public safety”, it will legitimize a nationwide declaration of martial law, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
With regard to the pre-existing armed struggle being waged by the New People’s Army (NPA), the petition states that, likewise, this cannot be used as a reason to declare a second extension of martial law. In the first place, Duterte himself, in his letter, recognized the waning forces of the NPA. It is also ironic that he who has asked for the NPA’s assistance to suppress the Maute forces now cites them as terrorists and “threats” to public safety.
“These do not constitutionally amount to a higher quantum of threat to public safety as of the moment to justify the need for the extension of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao,” the petition provides.
A tool of oppression
According to the petitioners, the second extension of martial law is meant to attack those who “legitimately dissent or oppose government’s repressive policies and draconian actions.”
The petitioners likened this to the imposition of martial in 1972, wherein the rights to assembly, expression, association, redress of grievances, and other constitutional rights were suppressed.
“The real intention behind the extension of martial law is to crack down on dissent. The government has been asked repeatedly and refuses to answer the question: What martial law powers do you really need against the rebels you have beeen citing?” Colmenares explained.
Gross and numerous human rights violations were committed during the period of martial law in Mindanao. Additional battalions of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were brought to Mindanao.
Related story: Rights abuses on the rise after Mindanao martial law extension
“President Duterte has by and large shown a paucity of tolerance for dissent and has publicly attacked institutions such as the Church, the Ombudsman, the Commission on Human Rights and even the media as well as Petitioners from people’s organizations like BAYAN and Piston for criticizing his anti-drug campaign, human rights record and other anti-people policies,” the petitioners cited.
Duterte has publicly, although informally, declared several people’s organizations as “legal fronts” of the NPA, and has classified a legitimate action of Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (Piston) against the jeepney phaseout as a plan to destabilize his fascist administration.
While the petitioners believe that the petition to junk the second extension of martial law presents a strong case, they also acknowledged that this legal recourse is not sufficient to totally subdue Duterte’s fascist regime.
“While we hope that the Supreme Court sees through both the legal ineptitude and political effects of the second extension of martial law, the battle against Duterte’s fascist rule does not end there, Kabataan Partylist Representative Sarah Elago, one of the petitioners, said.
“Now, more than ever, the youth should unite with the masses to further expose the effects of martial law, to resist any attempt of the Duterte administration to trample on the rights of Filipinos, and to oppose all anti-people, pro-imperialist policies,” she added.
The oral arguments are set to take place on January 16, 2 pm and on January 17, 10 am.