MANILA, Dec. 5 — A lawmaker on Saturday said the decision of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to declare martial law in Maguindanao province due to the mass killing of close to 60 people, including at least two dozen journalists, was not a knee-jerking reaction.
Lakas-Kampi-CMD (Christian, Muslim, Democrats) spokesman and Nueva Ecija Rep. Antonio Alvarez said that the President “should have declared it a long time ago as signs point to lawlessness in the area.”
“But the delay proves that it was a well-thought-of move, not precipitate, and carefully calculated,” he said.
Alvarez also allayed fears that the province would be a no-man’s land as what critics of the government are saying.
“Human rights groups have nothing to fear as this pocket martial law has an expiry date, that it will be lifted once the situation normalizes which, given the unchallenged presence of government forces in the area, would come soon,” he said.
Critics said that President Arroyo’s declaration of martial law in Maguindanao in the wake of the massacre last November 23, which allegedly involved a powerful clan in the area, sets a “most dangerous precedent” for the nation.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said that while it wants justice for the victims of the massacre, it cannot support a measure that is “both dangerous and questionable.”
On the other hand, the Black and White Movement also questioned the declaration of martial law, saying that it does not believe the massacre warrants its imposition.
“Is the government so weak that it cannot enforce the arrest of those implicated without it (martial law)?,” it said.
President Arroyo on Friday night declared martial law in Maguindanao.
In a media briefing at the New Executive Building in Malacanang, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita on Saturday morning said the President also suspended the writ of habeas corpus as contained in Proclamation 1959 signed on Friday night.
“Condition of peace and order in Maguindanao has deteriorated to the extent that government mechanisms are not functioning, thus endangering public safety,” Ermita told the media briefing.
He added the Palace will immediately inform Congress about the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao within 48 hours justifying Proclamation 1959.
Atty. Jose Manuel Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and a human rights lawyer, said there should be charges of rebellion as grounds for declaration of martial law.
The Constitution states that “within 48 hours from the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the President shall submit a report in person or in writing to the Congress.”
“The Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President. Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it,” it added.
Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, in a television interview, said the DOJ “noticed and observed there was a rebellion in the offing” in Maguindanao.
“The local governments in the whole of Maguindanao had been removed from the legitimate authorities. Some of these local government units… had closed down. They ceased to render government services and there was a massing of heavily armed men… it was practically an overthrow of government,” said Devanadera, citing the reasons for the imposition of martial law in the province.
On the convening of both Houses of Congress, Speaker Prospero Nograles said that in this case, both Chambers of Congress “do not indicate any majority numbers with any intention to revoke the proclamation (of martial law by the President), which is only good for 60 days.”
“Both Houses of Congress will convene in joint session only for purposes of revoking but not for approving,” he said.
Besides, he said, majority of lawmakers of the House of Representatives have expressed approval with the President’s decision.
The Speaker said that he himself will author a resolution of support to the imposition of martial law in Maguindanao. By Lilybeth G. Ison (PNA)