Mission accomplished? Arroyo lifts martial law

Photo from Reuters

Of course, the decision by Mrs. Gloria Arroyo to lift martial law in Maguindanao last night (Dec. 12, 9PM) after one week must be welcomed. But looking at the bigger picture, the people must also be alarmed. Why, what are the dangers?

The lifting of Proclamation 1959 preempted Congress and the Supreme Court (SC) from deciding on the legitimacy of martial law. As such, questions on its legality have remained unresolved. House Speaker Prospero Nograles and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile already said that they are adjourning the joint session on Proclamation 1959 on Monday, Dec. 14. As for the SC, it is hoped that it would still pursue the seven petitions versus martial law filed before it last week. The SC is supposed to determine whether or not Mrs. Arroyo abused her constitutional power to declare martial law.

As of this posting, however, there is still no official announcement from the SC. It only said its order for Malacañang to answer the petitions will stay. But the SC also added that the executive can manifest that martial law has been lifted (and thus the subject of the petitions no longer exists). If it decides to discontinue hearing the petitions, then we are in an even more precarious situation. Mrs. Arroyo can just impose martial law at whim, anywhere, using flimsy grounds like concocted rebellion. All she has to do is lift it before Congress and the SC can intervene. And then she can get away with murder.

With elections just around the corner, this is dangerous since military rule can be used to sabotage the polls. Imagine a scenario when martial law is declared on Election Day, or days before to lay the ground for fraud or election failure in certain areas. These unnerving possibilities are not farfetched especially with an incumbent President who will at all costs prolong her stay in power. The lifting of Proclamation 1959 did not ease fears of what Sen. Miriam Santiago called a “conspiracy” to expand martial law outside Maguindanao. We can thus expect more beheadings, hostage takings, clan wars, bombings, etc. in the months leading to the 2010 elections.

The other danger involves the cases facing the Ampatuans. Five members of the Ampatuan clan have already been charged with multiple counts of murder for the massacre. One of them is main suspect Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. But other important members of the clan, including its patriarch Andal Sr. have been charged with rebellion instead. Pundits noted that the rebellion charge is actually an escape route for the Ampatuans. Because most of them were accused with a political crime (i.e. rebellion) and not a criminal case (i.e. murder), there is more room for compromises including pardon or even acquittal.

There is also a chance that evidence such as the caches of arms and ammo seized from the Ampatuans during martial law could be questioned in courts. Ampatuans’ lawyers may argue that such evidence was illegally seized under Proclamation 1959, whose legitimacy was not resolved. Thus, martial law was effectively used to dilute the case versus the warlord clan.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said they lifted martial law because it has already achieved its objectives. If these objectives are to make Proclamation 1959 a dry-run for future wider martial law and to weaken the criminal liability of the Ampatuans, then it is indeed mission accomplished for Malacañang.

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Human Rights Day: 3 civilians killed weekly under brutal Gloria counterinsurgency, 2 people killed monthly by one Arroyo-backed warlord alone

Independent human rights group KARAPATAN Alliance for People’s Rights released Tuesday, Dec. 8 its 2009 report. The report was made public two days before the International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. In their press release, the group described Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program –Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) – as the “most brutal” in history. Since Arroyo became president in 2001, KARAPATAN has monitored a total of 1,118 victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK). That’s almost three civilians killed every week by suspected elements of the military and police.

Thus, even before the gruesome Ampatuan massacre last Nov. 23, political killings have been already happening on a massive scale. The alleged role of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in these killings is widely known. United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, for instance, noted this in his report on the Philippines. But very few of these cases have been solved. High ranking AFP officials directly linked to the killings remain untouched. The most notorious among them – Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. – even became a congressman. Civilian officials said to be behind the OBL also get promoted in the Arroyo bureaucracy. Former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales is now Secretary of National Defense. This created a climate of impunity and reign of terror, and obviously emboldened warlords close to Malacañang like the Ampatuans.

That such reign of terror by state-backed warlords has long been happening is slowly being confirmed today. New witnesses now with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) claim that the Ampatuans have killed at least 200 people in the last 10 years. That’s almost two people killed every month by one warlord alone. We could only imagine the number of helpless civilians killed by warlords all over the country. According to the AFP, there are at least 132 private armed groups linked to politicians nationwide. More than 10,000 men armed with powerful weapons that rival the military’s are enlisted in these groups.

These warlords and private armies are in fact extensions of the AFP and PNP under Mrs. Arroyo’s counterinsurgency plan. They have been armed and legitimized by Malacañang through Executive Order (EO) 546. This EO allowed local officials to convert their private armies into so-called Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs). They are supposed to be “force multipliers” in the fight against insurgents. But the world has seen in Ampatuan, Maguindanao the real picture. These CVOs instead became bringers of death and terrorism in the name of their patron warlord.

But who is the biggest patron warlord? Who gave the Ampatuans the arsenal of more than a thousand pieces of firearms including mortars, sniper rifles, machine guns, and anti-tank equipment? Where did the Ampatuans get the almost half a million rounds of assorted ammo? They even had armored cars and vehicles marked as police cars. Gen. Palparan has a simple explanation for this. The arms and ammo – the ones used to slaughter 57 people, including 31 journalists – were “pasasalamat” from government. Palparan said it is because the Ampatuans have been fighting alongside the military against the Moro rebels. But we also know about that fateful phone conversation in 2004 between ex-COMELEC Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and Mrs. Arroyo. Maguindanao will surely deliver the votes, Garci assured his anxious caller then.

Many sectors, including some journalist groups, have rightly pinned accountability on the Arroyo regime for the Ampatuan massacre. Justice is not realized even when all the Ampatuans are jailed and their private army dismantled. Justice means making Mrs. Arroyo liable and justice entails ousting her from power.

But we are being made to believe that justice is now swiftly being served, thanks to Proclamation 1959. Placing Maguindanao under martial law however has raised legal and constitutional issues. Various petitions are now filed before the Supreme Court. Congress as of this posting has also begun deliberating whether or not to revoke Proclamation 1959.

For human rights, Proclamation 1959 sends a chilling message. Since 2001, the extrajudicial killings, abduction, torture, etc. have been happening without martial law. With the atrocious human rights record of the regime, the terror sowed by Proclamation 1959 is not unfounded. But it is only in Maguindanao and it is only for 60 days, some may argue. But if Mrs. Arroyo can declare it in Maguindanao for dubious reasons, she can declare it anywhere, indefinitely. She has the motive (to stay in power beyond 2010) and she has the track record. The worsening economic decay and dwindling wealth to plunder make her even more desperate to cling to power.

The intention of political repression, warlordism, and martial law is to silence dissent. The only way to fight back and defend our human rights is to refuse to be silenced.

Martial Law: Today Maguindanao, tomorrow the Philippines?

(Below is the full text of Mrs. Gloria Arroyo’s Proclamation No. 1959 placing the province of Maguindanao under Martial Law.)

Proclamation 1959: Proclaiming a State of Martial Law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the province of Maguindanao except for certain areas.

Whereas, Proclamation No. 1946 was issued on 24 November 2009 declaring a state of emergency in the provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and the City of Cotabato for the purpose of preventing and suppressing lawless violence in the aforesaid areas.

Whereas, Sec. 18 Art. VII of the Constitution provides that “in case of invasion or rebellion, when public safety requires it, the President may, for a period not exceeding 60 days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.”

Whereas, Republic Act 6986 provides that “the crime of rebellion or insurrection is committed by rising publicly and taking arms against the government for the purpose of depriving the Chief Executive or the Legislature, wholly or partially, of any of their powers or prerogatives.”

Whereas, heavily armed groups in the province of Maguindanao have established positions to resist government troops thereby depriving the Executive of its powers and prerogatives to enforce the laws of the land to maintain public order and safety.

Whereas, the condition of peace and order in the province of Maguindanao has deteriorated to the extent that local judicial system and other government mechanisms in the province are not functioning; thus, endangering public safety.

Whereas, the implementing operational guidelines of the GRP-MILF agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities dated 14 Nov. 1997 provides that the following is considered a prohibited hostile act: “establishment of checkpoints except those necessary for the GRP’s enforcement and maintenance of peace and order and for the defense and security of the MILF in their identified areas as jointly determined by GRP and MILF.”

Now, therefore I, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, President of the Republic of the Philippines, by virtue of the powers vested in me by the Constitution and by law, do hereby proclaim as follows:

Sec. 1: There is hereby declared a state of martial law in the province of Maguindanao except for the identified areas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as referred to in the implementing operational guidelines of the GRP-MILF agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities.

Sec. 2: The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall likewise be suspended in the aforesaid area for the duration of the state of martial law.

Done in the City of Manila this 4th day of December in the Year of Our Lord, Two Thousand and Nine.

(Originally Signed)

Gloria M. Arroyo

By the President:

(Originally Signed)

Eduardo Ermita

Executive Secretary

Watch the press conference called by Exec. Sec. Eduardo Ermita on Proclamation 1959

Ampatuan massacre: we mourn, we rage

Today (Nov. 26), said Mrs. Arroyo, is a national day of mourning for at least 57 people – including women, human rights lawyers, and members of media – brutally massacred in a town called Ampatuan in Maguindanao province.

Indeed, we should mourn. Not only for those killed in the mass slaughter of unarmed civilians that is unprecedented in the world’s recent history, at a time when democracy supposedly reigns, in a country that prides itself as a beacon of democracy.

We should mourn the death of the rule of law and justice, the demise of decency and accountability in government that Malacañang has repeatedly and blatantly massacred with impunity.

We should mourn the decay of our society where the police and military could not touch mass murdering warlords because their Commander-in-Chief has political debts to pay, including electoral victories clinched through fraud and terrorism waged by mass murdering warlords.

We should indeed mourn when the police and military, without fear of retribution, kill, massacre, torture, abduct activists, lawyers, teachers, farmers, workers, priests, bishops, local government officials, government employees, women, children, students, human rights defenders, environmentalists, and anyone that the presidential mafia tags as its enemy.

We should indeed mourn when the butchers who carry out these killings are promoted as generals and become makers of laws in a country where the law only applies to those without power, to the poor and oppressed, to those not in the mafia’s good graces.

We mourn, and we rage.

We rage.

We rage against the impunity, the human rights atrocities, the cover-up, the fraud, the political patronage, the corruption, the injustice.

We rage until we get justice for those killed by the Arroyo regime, and the Palparans, and the Ampatuans.

We rage.