'Prove this is rebellion,' Caguioa says of military martial law report

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Do violent incidents in Mindanao prove a continuing state of rebellion, and therefore, justify extending martial law for another year?

Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa on Tuesday, January 29, picked apart the military monthly report that the government submitted to justify martial law, noting discrepancies and missing details.

“I need an explanation how these encounters amongst them would constitute proof of a pressing rebellion,” Caguioa said while interpellating Major General Pablo Lorenzo, the deputy chief of staff for intelligence of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

For example, the military listed 74 incidents that it attributed to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), but they were only able to identify the BIFF with certainty only in 23.

“That leaves a remaining 51 incidents which, according to this annex, are claimed to be BIFF-initiated,” said the justice, who was the first one to ask questions during Tuesday’s oral arguments.

By tradition, the justice who asks the first question during oral arguments is the member-in-charge. Caguioa has consistently dissented to the upholding of constitutionality of martial law in Mindanao.

Missing entries

Caguioa cited several entries in the military report which were missing an identified perpetrator, or a motive, and for some, even both.

"If there are no perpetrators, I want to know what the basis is for considering them Abu Sayyaf-initiated incidents," Caguioa said, reading from his prepared matrix of such incomplete entries.

In the report that concerns alleged Abu Sayyaf-related violence, Caguioa noted that some of them identified the perpetrator asthe brother of the victim. Some entries even cited “family feud” as motive.

"What makes you say this is connected to rebellion and not an isolated case of murder?" Caguioa said, adding that some incidents "seem to be for motives other than rebellion."

Caguioa also noted some discrepancies between the military report and the comment submitted to the Court by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).

For example, on January 6, 2018, an encounter was attributed by the OSG to the Abu Sayyaf, while the military attributed it to the BIFF.

Caguioa also noted that the military report for incidents attributed to communist rebels lacked details. 

Caguioa compelled the military to submit “essentially an updated information” by February 4.

“Is there a projected or estimated timeline when government is able to put an end to what you say is a persisting rebellion in Mindanao?” Caguioa said.

Lorenzo said: “What I can say at this point is it is dependent on the attainment of the targets set in our different campaigns.”

Caguioa pressed on, asking for a clear qualification to declare rebellion as over. “When the last rebel is dead?” the justice asked.

“Given that question, what I could say is, it’s not the killing of every single rebel out there that we can say rebellion no longer exists, rather it is the attainment of a level of security whereby the different threat groups can no longer impose their will on the people, or they are no longer effective in attaining their political objectives,” Lorenzo said.

When it was his turn to interpellate, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen scored Solicitor General Jose Calida over the inconsistent reports.

“So how do you explain the inconsistencies, the incomplete statements, the inclusion of rido in the report that was just submitted to the highest court of the land to justify the extension of martial law?” Leonen asked.

Calida said they were due to “clerical errors” but Leonen did not accept this, saying, “We went through your submissions, it was shown you attributed arson, a feud, a kidnapping to rebellion.” Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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