Martial Law in Maguindanao: The Sorry Truth and A Dangerous Precedent

Ending days of speculation, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has signed Proclamation 1959, declaring Martial Law in Maguindanao (excluding the areas affected by talks between government and the Moro
Islamic Liberation Front).

This declaration — the first since the time of dictator Ferdinand Marcos — is supposedly the government’s way of showing its resolve in bringing to justice the suspects of the Maguindanao massacre.  We do take note that aside from the pressure from different sectors here in the Philippines, Gloria is under intense pressure from the international community to get the barbarians behind bars.

The declaration makes possible swift, warrantless arrests of suspects, as the Writ of Habeas Corpus has also been suspended in Maguindanao.

But more than giving a reassurance to the public, the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao sends a chilling effect to a entire the country that is still haunted by the Marcos-imposed martial law in 1972.  So what’s next?  What happens now? And Why not stick to the state of emergency?

Is the declaration even legal?  The 1987 Constitution, learning from the declaration of martial law in 1972, has set several and clear safeguards to prevent this provision from being abused.  For starters, martial law can only be declared if there is a threat of rebellion or invasion.

Article 7, Section 18. The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law…

The atrocities committed to the victims of the massacre have been beyond anyone’s imagination.  But the
case here is murder and not rebellion.  It is an election-related case.  It is not rebellion.  And certainly, there is no invasion.

But Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera argues that the situation in Maguindanao is practically a case of
rebellion.  The violence has paralyzed the function of the provincial government.  It has reportedly paralyzed the judiciary in the province.  There is fear that that the situation could degenerate into more violence and I have to agree.  And it is no joke when the government finds stolen ammunition that is enough to arm two battalions!

The good thing is that Congress now has the power to revoke the proclamation if there not enough reason for it.  If more arrests will be made — and for sure there will be — due process must still be observed.

Either way, more than the legality of the proclamation, the sorry truth now is the government’s incapacity and powerlessness to handle the situation with its normal powers. It has been 12 days, and much remains to be done.

Does this proclamation set a dangerous precedent?  After all, Maguindanao is not the only place in the Philippines with private armies.  If and when election-related violence erupts again and private armies are once again involved, will Gloria or any other president declare martial law too? After all, why only limit the dismantling of private armies to Maguindanao?

Well, we are now paying for the consequences of political patronage that has been ignored and neglected for decades.

The President, by law, needs to submit a report to Congress within 48 hours to defend the declaration of martial law.  Congress is expected to deliberate on it.  But the vote will be done jointly, as the constitution explicitly says.  Which is another issue. How will lawmakers vote?  How will the opposition-dominated senate vote?  And how will the Pro-Arroyo House of Representatives vote? #

Click below to read the full text of proclamation of martial law in Maguindanao.

Proclamation 1959:

Proclaiming a State of Martial Law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the province of Maguindanao except for certain areas.

Whereas, Proclamation No. 1946 was issued on 24 November 2009 declaring a state of emergency in the provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and the City of Cotabato for the purpose of preventing and suppressing lawless violence in the aforesaid areas.

Whereas, Sec. 18 Art. VII of the Constitution provides that “in case of invasion or rebellion, when public safety requires it, the President may, for a period not exceeding 60 days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.”

Whereas, Republic Act 6986 provides that “the crime of rebellion or insurrection is committed by rising publicly and taking arms against the government for the purpose of depriving the Chief Executive or the Legislature, wholly or partially, of any of their powers or prerogatives.”

Whereas, heavily armed groups in the province of Maguindanao have established positions to resist government troops thereby depriving the Executive of its powers and prerogatives to enforce the laws of the land to maintain public order and safety.

Whereas, the condition of peace and order in the province of Maguindanao has deteriorated to the extent that local judicial system and other government mechanisms in the province are not functioning; thus, endangering public safety.

Whereas, the implementing operational guidelines of the GRP-MILF agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities dated 14 Nov. 1997 provides that the following is considered a prohibited hostile act: “establishment of checkpoints except those necessary for the GRP’s enforcement and maintenance of peace and order and for the defense and security of the MILF in their identified areas as jointly determined by GRP and MILF.”

Now, therefore I, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, President of the Republic of the Philippines, by virtue of the powers vested in me by the Constitution and by law, do hereby proclaim as follows:

Sec. 1: There is hereby declared a state of martial law in the province of Maguindanao except for the identified areas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as referred to in the implementing operational guidelines of the GRP-MILF agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities.

Sec. 2: The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall likewise be suspended in the aforesaid area for the duration of the state of martial law.

Done in the City of Manila this 4th day of December in the Year of Our Lord, Two Thousand and Nine.

Gloria M. Arroyo (Signed)

By the President:

Eduardo Ermita (Originally Signed)
Executive Secretary

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