MANILA, Sept. 5 (PNA) — Senators on Monday allayed public fears over President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of a state of lawlessness or a state of lawless violence in the aftermath of the Davao City bomb attack last Friday.
Senator Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri expressed support for the President’s declaration, even though it has “sparked concerns” that the country is veering towards military rule.
“The Chief Executive himself denied that it was Martial Law and assured that it does not involve the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus,” Zubiri said in his privilege speech.
“We have nothing to be afraid of, much more doubt the intent of the President,” he said, emphasizing that the declaration does not entail the suspension of any rights under the Constitution or set the stage for Martial law.
Zubiri further said that the three branches of government are still functional.
“State of lawless violence merely calls out the military or the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to do law enforcement operations normally done only by the Philippine National Police (PNP),” Zubiri said.
“It is precisely for the purpose of suppressing lawless violence. It is to complement and supplement the capability of the PNP,” he added.
Been there, done that
Zubiri cited how former president Joseph Estrada declared a state of lawlessness when he directed the AFP and PNP chiefs to coordinate in the deployment of Marines for a temporary period in Metro Manila, and the Supreme Court upheld it.
The senator also cited former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who declared lawlessness in 2003 after the bombing of the Sasa Wharf and airport in Davao City.
“It is my position that now is the best time to support the President to curtail lawlessness and suppress its spread throughout the nation,” Zubiri said.
Asked if there should be fears of abuses, Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, like Zubiri, said there is “nothing to be worried about”.
“Martial Law is toothless under the Constitution. Because of our bad experience of Martial Law in 1970s when we passed the new Constitution, Martial Law has barely any effect,” Escudero said in an ambush interview.
“Even if Martial Law is declared, Congress is not abolished, in fact Congress has the power to either affirm or reverse any such declaration,” he added.
Escudero said that declaring a state of lawless violence is under the discretion of the President and could cover the entire country or it could be in pockets. However, the Supreme Court has the power to reverse it, he said.
“Only the courts can reverse or modify it. Anyone can go to Supreme Court to question the declaration. There is no jurisprudence that says it can be verbal, it needs presidential proclamation or an administrative order to implement it,” Escudero said.
He however noted the need to explain what it means exactly so it does not create public panic.
“There is no effect in civil liberties, no effect in rights under the bill of rights, no effect in normal activities of citizens except using soldiers in citizens to combat this,” he added.
The main concern now, he said, is to give enough opportunity for security forces to stop these attacks from recurring.
Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III echoed fellow senators in urging the President to put his declaration into writing. He however stressed that the President, as Commander-in-Chief, has the power to do so.
“We are not to question it unless some believe it (his declaration) is unconstitutional. But politically speaking, that is his power. It is better to put it in writing so that terms, instructions, directions can be referred to time and again and it will not change because it is in writing,” Pimentel said.
The senator pointed out that lawless violence is one of the powers given by the Constitution to the president as commander-in-chief to tap services, facilities, energy and time to prevent and suppress lawless violence.
He explained that Martial Law is another power of the president but it was entirely different from what the President exercised.
“(The President) exercised a state of lawless violence directed at the Armed Forces. He will be tapping them to prevent or suppress what he perceives as lawless violence,” Pimentel said.
“Even in the most extreme declaration of Martial Law, under our Constitution, civil courts should continue to function. And that’s the most extreme. This is not extreme. It’s actually just a call or an order that the military will help our police,” he added.
Open for complaints
Senator Richard “Dick” Gordon also downplayed fears of another Martial Law as he assured that the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is open for complaints against abuses committed in relation to the implementation of the declaration.
“The Blue Ribbon is empowered to investigate misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance in office by officers and employees of the government, its branches, agencies, subdivisions and instrumentalities, and more importantly, any matter of public interest,” Gordon said in his privilege speech.
“We can open the Blue Ribbon Committee to any complaints. Any citizen who feels he had been aggrieved by the military checkpoints or by any military man or any member of the government could come to the Blue Ribbon Committee at any time,” he said.
He meanwhile stressed that there must be rules in the implementation of the declaration of state of lawlessness, adding that Congress could provide the necessary checks and balances to allay the people’s fear.
“I only say this to assuage those of us who rightfully and perhaps legally will be concerned about the declaration of the state of lawlessness,” the senator said.
Gordon also recounted how during his time as tourism secretary, he had to take action to avert the negative effects to the tourism industry of several bombings such as the Zamboanga Puericulture Center bombing on Oct. 28, 2001 which killed 5 people; the General Santos bombing at Fitmart store on April 21, 2002 where 15 people died; the Metro Manila bus bombing on Oct. 18, 2002 where there were two fatalities; and the Superferry Bombing outside Manila Bay on Feb. 27, 2004 which claimed 116 lives, among others.
Meanwhile, in his privilege speech, Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV noted that more support should be given to the police and the military as they conduct investigations and arrests, and find and convict terrorists.
“These tasks and missions that we demand of our policemen and soldiers must be coupled with the appropriate resources,” Aquino said.
“Let us equip them with the necessary support so they may address crime and terrorism and deliver justice and safety for our fellowmen,” he added.
Aquino, who said that although he was often referred to as “the gentleman from Tarlac”, he might as well be the “gentleman from Davao” since his mother Melanie Aguirre-Aquino is from Davao.
He meanwhile suggested three ways to “move forward as a nation” after the attacks — to build strength, remain vigilant and unite.
He said that the country should work together to synergize all the organs of government, civil society, and citizenry to ensure that such attacks are not repeated.
“In the short term, let us set aside the politics and provide authorities all the resources that they need to combat these perpetrators,” Aquino said.
“And for the long term, we here in the Senate must lay the foundation for a future free of terror because of inclusive growth, and peace and prosperity for all,” he added.
The Senate passed Senate Resolution 125 condemning the Davao City bomb blast. All senators were named as co-authors. (PNA)