SC justice questions paranoia over martial law

As the Philippine Supreme Court (SC) this week began its oral arguments on consolidated petitions objecting the one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao, a magistrate questioned petitioners for supposedly being “paranoid” about the military rule.

SC Associate Justice Samuel Martires posed the question following statements from former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay who cited the rampant human rights violations in the country from 1972 to 1986 during the martial law period under late President Ferdinand Marcos.

“Why are we so paranoid about martial law and yet not worried about terrorism?” Martires asked petitioners during the high court’s hearing on Tuesday, January 16.

Hilbay is the counsel for former Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chair Etta Rosales, who is among the petitioners.

During the hearing, Hilbay maintained that threats of terrorism do not justify martial law. He stressed that the Constitution only allows such declaration an “invasion and/or rebellion when public safety requires it.”

“That is not enough to justify the imposition of martial law… Many of us experienced martial law and it was not a pleasant experience,” he said.

While agreeing that threats of terrorism should be addressed, that former solicitor general insisted that the military’s regular powers are the “appropriate tool” for responding to such threats.

“Why are we not worried about terrorism? We are worried about terrorism but martial law is not the answer to terrorism,” Hilbay added.

Martial law in Mindanao was extended for one more year until December 31, 2018 for the “total eradication” of pro-Islamic State (IS) terrorists and communists rebels in the area. It was first imposed on May 23, 2017 after Maute terrorists seized Marawi City, triggering an armed conflict that lasted for five months.

Martires then interrogated Hilbay about any occurrence of civil liberties being suppressed under the current martial law.

“[Is] there a curtailment of freedom of speech? Of assembly? Academic freedom? Just like what happened during the previous martial law?” Martires asked.

Hilbay, in response, said he was not privy to “what the military did” under the present martial law.

The next oral arguments on petitions against martial law are slated to resume on Wednesday, January 17, wherein when the government, through Solicitor General Jose Calida, is expected to argue for the dismissal of the consolidated petitions.

The SC has consolidated four petitions challenging the constitutionality of the one-year extension.

The first and second petitions were separately filed by the so-called “Magnificent Seven” of the House of Representatives, led by Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, and by human rights advocates and cause-oriented groups represented by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).

The third petition was filed by Rosales, while the fourth was submitted by a group led by former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman and one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution Christian Monsod.

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