Lagman: SC lowered the bar in martial law decision

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Supreme Court

A DAY before Congress is set to deliberate on President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2017, petitioner and Albay Representative Edcel C. Lagman filed a 56-paged motion for reconsideration before the high court to reverse its historic decision to uphold Proclamation No. 216.

Mr. Lagman warned that the Supreme Court’s (SC) “excuse” for not having the “competence” and “logistical machinery” in assessing the ground conditions presented by Mr. Duterte in his report presented to the Congress is “an ominous prelude to an abandonment of its power of judicial review under Section 18 of Article VII of the constitution.”

On the night of May 23, Mr. Duterte — who was in Russia for an official visit — placed Mindanao and its islands under martial law and suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the said area, through Proclamation No. 216.

Mr. Lagman and four other lawmakers — Akbayan Partylist Rep. Tomas Villarin, Magdalo Partylist Rep. Gary Alejano, Capiz Rep. Emmanuel Billones and Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, Jr. — were the first group who asked the high court to find Proclamation No. 216 unconstitutional.

But the SC, on July 4, junked the consolidated petitions challenging the factual basis of Mr. Duterte’s declaration and held that his martial law declaration was constitutional.

Mr. Lagman stressed that the SC “has virtually abdicated the original, exclusive and special jurisdiction which Section 18 of Article VII of the Constitution conferred on it to review the sufficiency of factual basis” of Proclamation No. 216.

He highlighted part of the dissenting opinion of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes P.A. Sereno, which reads: “This opinion will demonstrate that the Court could have avoided defaulting on its duty to fully review the action of the President. Instead, the majority emaciated the power of judicial review by giving excessive leeway to the President.”

Mr. Lagman further scored the decision saying that its ponencia, Associate Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo, “has lowered the bar.”

He lamented the “defeatist stance” of the high court as it “erodes the Supreme Court’s prerogative not only to sanction the President’s failure to pass the test of factual sufficiency for his declaration or suspension, but also to protect the citizens’ civil liberties from transgression as a result of an improvident and unconstitutional exercise of martial law powers by an errant President.”

The lawmaker also lamented the SC’s “obliviousness” to its inherent power to call in more witnesses to further examine Proclamation No. 216’s sufficiency of the factual basis.

“Considering that the President has the monopoly of so-called intelligence information, the hearsay rule must not be applied on petitioners’ secondary sources of information like news reportage which belie the veracity of intelligence information and/or contest the sufficiency of the factual basis of Proclamation No. 216,” Mr. Lagman said.

On the third day of the SC’s oral arguments, Defense Chief Delfin N. Lorenzana and Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Eduardo M. Año — also impleaded as respondents in the petitions — faced the SC justices. However, the hearing was done behind closed doors.

Mr. Lagman pointed out that the SC could have summoned other “important resources persons or witness” such as ranking intelligence officers, officials who prepared the President’s Report to the Congress, Marawi residents and local government officers, and other military officers to deliberate on the factual basis of the declaration.

“Verily, the Honorable Supreme Court has not fully utilized its fact-finding jurisdiction to fully review and assess the President’s allegations of facts in Proclamation No. 216 and the President’s Report to the Congress,” Mr. Lagman said.

The Congress will hold a special session on Saturday, July 22, on the proposed extension of martial law in Mindanao. — Kristine Joy V. Patag