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By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Supreme Court must provide closure to the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao even if the government has military rule in the province Saturday evening.

In an interview with Serbisyo Publiko hosted by Iloilo City Councilor Perla Zulueta over Sky Cable Sunday, Atty. Hans Sayno, former Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Iloilo president, said the high tribunal should decide whether Proclamation No. 1959, which imposed martial law on Maguindanao, was constitutional or not.

“The Supreme Court should discuss and decide the petitions filed against the declaration of marital law in Maguindanao to set the right precedent. If the SC does not act on these, the present administration and future presidents will be tempted to use martial law in any place of the country,” Sayno said.

Proclamation No. 1959 put Maguindanao under martial law last December 5 following the gruesome massacre of more than 50 persons, including the kin of a political clan and Mindanao journalists.

Military and police officials claimed that a rebellion was brewing after the arrest of key members of the Ampatuan clan who are the suspects in the massacre.

Seven petitions from various individuals and groups were filed with the SC questioning the constitutionality of martial law in Maguindanao.

President Gloria Arroyo lifted martial law in the province effective 9pm Saturday after the PNP and AFP said that they have neutralized armed groups planning to rebel against the government.

But Maguindanao remains under a state of emergency, according to Malacañang officials.

Sayno said the SC can opt not to act on the petition by ruling that the issue has become “moot and academic” with the lifting of martial law in Maguindanao.

According to the Supreme Court in Mitre v. Tan Torres, “a case is considered as presenting a moot question when a judgment thereon cannot have any practical legal effect, or in the nature of things, cannot be enforced.”

Sayno said that while the SC cannot be compelled to rule on the anti-martial law petitions, proper closure through the high tribunal’s decision must be made to avoid abuse of the martial law edict.

“The petitions can be dismissed for being moot and academic. But on issues of constitutional magnitude, like the declaration of the state of emergency, the SC can decide and put the issue to rest,” he added.

Sayno cited the declaration of a state of emergency on February 24, 2006, by the virtue of Proclamation No. 1017 after the government claimed that it foiled an alleged coup d’état attempt by Magdalo soldiers against the Arroyo administration.

The President lifted the state of emergency on March 3, 2006 by the virtue of Proclamation No. 1021.

Sayno said the SC rendered a decision on Proclamation No. 1017 and set the basis for the imposition of the policy on May 6, 2006.

In an 11-3 decision, the high court upheld President Arroyo’s right to declare a state of emergency, but said she exceeded her authority by allowing the military to make warrant-less arrests and raid media outlets.

Meanwhile, House Majority Floor Leader Arthur D. Defensor Sr. said Congress will continue the joint session on the imposition of martial law in Maguindanao today.

Defensor said the session must be adjourned properly now that the government has lifted Proclamation No. 1959.

The Senate and the House of Representatives went on joint session Thursday to hear the executive department’s justification for the declaration of martial law and decide whether or not to revoke military rule in Maguindanao.

A total of 40 lawmakers were scheduled to grill government officials today over the martial law declaration.

Defensor said he had a hunch that martial law will be lifted after the PNP and AFP arrested the main suspects in the Maguindanao massacre and recovered caches of firearms and ammunitions believed to be owned by the Ampatuan clan.

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By Francis Allan L. Angelo

MARTIAL law in Maguindanao may have been an experiment on the part of the national government to test the political waters, a lawyer said.

Atty. Hans Sayno said over cable TV program Serbisyo Publiko hosted by Councilor Perla Zulueta Sunday that the government may have had other objectives in declaring martial law aside from quelling a supposed rebellion looming in Maguindanao.

He said the martial law edict was also meant to gauge the actual application of martial law and the people’s reaction to military rule.

Also, martial law is also a way to measure the loyalty of the allies of President Gloria Arroyo in Congress en route to the 2010 elections.

“Even the withdrawal of martial law could be a strategy to show that Malacañang is listening to the people,” Sayno said.

The imposition of martial law in Maguindanao also spurred constitutional issues which could be remedied either by the Supreme Court and charter change which the Arroyo administration is pushing.

One amendment Sayno cited is Congress’ manner of voting on constitutional issues such as martial law imposition.

The 1986 Constitution provides that Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate), voting jointly, may revoke the martial law proclamation with a simple majority vote.

The House has 268 members while there are only 24 senators. At least 147 votes are needed to revoke martial law edicts.

Sayno said the “voting jointly” provision puts the Senate on unequal footing in debates on constitutional issues even if both legislative chambers are considered co-equals. 

“The ratio between the senators and congressmen is 1:11 approximately. A senator must convince 11 congressmen to join their cause. The voting jointly provision is unfair to the senators because they will always be outnumbered by the congressmen. This provision should be scrapped and replaced with ‘Congress voting separately’ so that the voices of each chamber will be clearly heard,” he added.

On the part of the SC, Sayno said it should rule whether the government can declare martial rule on a per province basis.

“This might be repeated so the SC should rule to it will not be repeated. The situation was a trial-and-error, an experiment with potential damage to the country,” he said.

Sayno said the government should have not declared martial law in order to go after the Ampatuan clan who are the suspects in the Maguindanao massacre.

“The massacre did not threaten the republic, it only tarnished its image. Ordinary government law enforcement powers were sufficient to go after the suspects. The PNP and the AFP can take care of the situation. What happened was an ordinary crime but considered savage in our modern time,” Sayno added.

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