MANILA — The Supreme Court on Tuesday has set the dates for oral arguments on the petition filed by opposition lawmakers led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman to challenge the constitutionality of President Rodrigo Duterte’s proclamation of martial law in Mindanao.
SC spokesman Theodore Te announced the directive was issued following Tuesday’s regular en banc session of the magistrates.
Te said that justices of the high court decided to set the petition by members of the minority in the House of Representatives for oral arguments on June 13, 14 and 15 at 10 a.m.
Aside from Lagman, other petitioners include Akbayan Rep. Tomasito Villarin, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, Capiz Rep. Emmanuel Billones, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Jr. and Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice.
Named respondents to the petition were Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Defense Secretary and Martial Law Administrator Delfin Lorenzana and AFP Chief of Staff and Martial Law Implementor Eduardo Año.
The high court gave respondents on or before June 12 at 12 noon to submit their comment.
”Require the Office of the Solicitor General, for and in behalf of the respondents, to comment on the petition not later than June 12, 2017 at 12:00 Noon (The Docket Receiving Section of the Supreme Court will be open to receive the Comment.),” Te said.
It also set preliminary conference on the case on the same day (June 12) at 2 p.m. and required parties to submit memoranda not later than June 19 at 2 p.m. after the oral arguments.
In their petition filed Monday, Lagman and six other congressmen asked the high court to exercise its power under the Constitution to review a president’s martial law declaration.
Petitioners argued, in a nutshell, that there was no factual basis to justify the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of writ of habeas corpus.
They claimed that the siege in Marawi is not rebellion or invasion, but rather an “armed resistance by the Maute Group to shield Hapilon from capture, not to overrun Marawi and remove its allegiance from the Republic.”
Petitioners believes that what was present in Marawi may be considered only as “imminent dange, which has been obliterated from the 1987 Constitution as an alternative ground for the declaration of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.”
On Monday, Solicitor General Jose C. Calida said that he is ready to defend Proclamation No. 216 and he is confident that the government will win.
Calida made the statement in response to the filing of opposition lawmakers a petition before the Supreme Court to challenge the constitutionality of President Rodrigo Duterte’s proclamation of martial law in Mindanao.
“Who are these rabble-rousers to say that there is no factual basis for the declaration of martial law?” Calida said in a statement.
“Their denial that there is an ongoing rebellion by the combined forces of the Maute group and the Abu Sayyaf, heightened by the participation of foreign jihadists to make Mindanao a caliphate of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), is like saying that the sun does not rise from the east. This is a symptom of psychosis since they are detached from reality,” he noted.
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte issued Proclamation No. 216, on May 23 declaring a state of martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao. This was a result of the attack of the Maute group in Marawi City, which is still ongoing and is subject to military operations.
“Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that the President’s declaration of martial law needs the recommendation or concurrence of the Defense Secretary, or any cabinet official,” Calida said, refuting the petitioners’ argument that Duterte acted alone in declaring martial law without the benefit of a recommendation from his cabinet.
For his part, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II reiterated that once affirmed by the House of the Representatives and Senate the validity of the President’s declaration of martial law the Supreme Court cannot be overruled.
Aguirre said that once Congress declares the imposition of martial law for 60 days in Mindanao is valid, the SC “is almost powerless” to override the Congress and the President.
”Waste basket lang yun , kung bakit nagdesisyon na separately ang House at tsaka ang Senate that they are backing the declaration of martial law as sufficient in compliance sa law at tsaka sa facts. Ngayon pag ganun na wala na magagawa ang Supreme Court when it is very clear na arbitrary ang pag deklara ng Presidente ng martial law. Walang mangyayari dyan,” Aguirre told reporters covering DOJ in a phone interview.
Aguirre cited the detailed report that the President submitted to Congress justifying the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
While he acknowledged the provision in Article VII, Section 18 of the Constitution that gives the SC 30 days within which to decide on a petition questioning the factual basis for martial declaration, Aguirre said the Court would still have to defer to the position of the President and Congress.
“I believe that in view of the declaration of the President and the concurrence of Congress the only way that the SC could oppose this is when it shows that the act, that the President acted arbitrarily, which is very difficult to prove,” he noted.
Earlier, the high court had an opportunity to use such power when former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s declaration of martial law after the Maguindanao massacre in 2009 was questioned before it.
But in a ruling in April 2012, the SC dismissed the seven petitions challenging the martial declaration only on the basis of being moot and academic because martial law was only effective for eight days following the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao, mostly journalists, on Nov. 23, 2009 by the Ampatuan clan and their private army.
The high tribunal did not settle the constitutional issues raised in the petitions against Arroyo’s Proclamation No. 1959, which was the first case when a president declared martial law since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
In that ruling penned by retired Associate Justice Roberto Abad, the SC said it left to Congress the authority to review the martial law declaration.
“Although the Constitution reserves to the Supreme Court the power to review the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation or suspension in a proper suit, it is implicit that the Court must allow Congress to exercise its own review powers, which is automatic rather than initiated,” it held.
“The constitutional validity of the President’s proclamation of martial law or suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is first a political question in the hands of Congress before it becomes a justiciable one in the hands of the Court,” the SC stressed.