Violence reports justifying martial law need not be correct – Bersamin

MANILA, Philippines – Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin defended on Thursday, February 21, the Supreme Court’s 9-4 vote that upheld the legality of the 3rd extension of martial law, saying that the accuracy of violence reports in Mindanao is not the issue.

“Whether that information is true or not is irrelevant. If there was false information and the President did not know it but nonetheless acted upon it, the theory is, it is still within the competence of the President to make a decision on that,” Bersamin told reporters on Thursday after welcome ceremonies at the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.

Bersamin said that majority of the en banc found that there is sufficient factual basis for the 3rd extension of martial law in Mindanao. Martial Law in Mindanao is extended to yearend 2019.

During the oral arguments in January, Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa picked apart the military’s implementation report, noting that there were many inconsistencies and conflicting details.

Caguioa presented a matrix of inconsistencies, showing that some incidents were attributed to both communist rebels and the Abu Sayyaf. There were also incidents where there were no perpetrators but these were later attributed to the Abu Sayyaf, too.

Caguioa was the original member-in-charge but he was outvoted, 9-4, relegating his opinion to a dissent. The most junior justice, Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang, will be the new ponente, according to Supreme Court Spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka.

Apart from Caguioa, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Francis Jardeleza also dissented.

“When you note some inconsistencies or weaknesses, that is not sufficient to undo the determination of the President because accuracy is not the question here,” Bersamin said.

The Supreme Court has yet to release full copies of the decision and separate opinions.

Absolute presidential discretion 

When the Supreme Court upheld Mindanao martial law the first time, the majority decision already gave the President almost absolute discretion to declare and extend martial law for however long as he sees necessary.

"The President only needs to convince himself that there is probable cause or evidence showing that more likely than not, a rebellion was committed or is being committed,” the Supreme Court said in its July 2017 majority decision written by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo.

The Del Castillo ponencia also empowered Duterte to declare martial law nationwide if he sees the necessity.

One of the lawyers for the 4 groups of petitioners, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers or NUPL’s Edre Olalia, said that the decision “is very dangerous and very distressing.”

"If the executive concurred in by the legislative and then validated by the judiciary are singing the same song, then where do the people go?" Olalia said. – 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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