In one fell swoop, Congress and the Supreme Court has been rendered unable to exercise the Constitutional oversight they’re supposed to, when presidents impose martial law or suspend the writ.
This brings me to something I wanted to point out, considering Day One and Day Two of the joint session of Congress convened for the purpose of deciding whether or not to revoke martial law: the power, as Rep. Locsin suggested on TV in response to the announcement of the lifting, of martial law lies in its being more of a psychological tool than a legal one. When martial law was imposed, the Ampatuans were dared, in effect, to call the President’s bluff. They did not, they folded. But having folded, they then have ample opportunity, within the limited comforts of their various holding cells, to see just how toothless martial law really is.
If you go over the testimony of the Secretary of Justice, she seemed to propose that martial law allowed for warrantless arrests, searches and seizures and that with most other aspects of martial law (as commonly understood) having been stripped away under the present Constitution, that warrantless arrests and searches were the main legal benefits of martial law.
Senator Pangilinan questioned the search and seizure part, while most other questions suggested warrantless arrests were justified strictly in the sense that rebellion is a continuing crime. By the second day of her testimony, Sec. Devanadera chose to be mute and defenseless in terms of the “legal impediments” question that Sen. Biazon zeroed in on: perhaps, by this time, she was conscious of the implications of the points raised by Pangilinan and that any murder-related evidence might end up tossed out by the courts on the “fruits of the poisoned tree” principle.
Not to mention the rather shaky grounds for asserting there was a rebellion instead of say, sedition taking place.
Sen. Gordon, too, had begun to dangerously zero in on official accountability for arms and ammunition secured by the Ampatuans, officially or not, from the Department of National Defense and the Philippine National Police: he was quite obviously springing a trap not just for Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, but for his predecessor, who at about the same time was reiterating that the President had allowed him free rein in running the Defense department.
So all in all, the time had come to pull the plug on martial law, because whether or not the Palace had the numbers in Congress and possibly even in the Supreme Court, the political points the President initially scored had begun to be whittled away.
Perhaps on the assumption that while the cat is away the mice will play, trouble began to erupt in other provinces and the appeal of an administration ally, Rep. Dimaporo, for martial law in his province and a similar appeal by a Catholic bishop, might’ve led to an uncontrollable martial law fad on one hand, precisely pushing the President to a line even the admirers of her imposing martial law in Maguindanao expressed misgivings about, and on the other, for various armed gangs and rebel groups to step up their activities, thinking the military and police are overstretched.
Also, in terms of Congress and the Supreme Court, subjecting the Palace assertions of rebellion and its legal interpretation of martial law powers to too sustained a scrutiny, might’ve ended up laying down too many precedents other than the main one the President wanted to establish by being the first chief executive to proclaim martial law under the present Charter.
The President has once more exercised her powers and then pulled back before any conclusion permanently limiting her options in the future can be reached.
The public will now be looking to see not only if things calm down in Maguindanao, but whether the case against the perpetrators of the Ampatuan Massacre will have the book thrown at them or not.
CIDG-CIDU vs. Governor Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr., et al., IS No. XVI-INV-09L-00816 for Multiple Murder, will be the next arena on December 18, 2009 at 2 PM at the 3/F Multiple Purpose Building, Padre Faura, Manila. State Prosecutor Rassendell F. Gingoyon with Prosecuting Attorney Xerxes V. Garcia will be front and center on this one.
The initial stage will be the presentation of affidavits and other evidence, and a corresponding (what, 60 day?) period given the Ampatuans’ attorneys to respond; witnesses and even the lower-ranking accused will have to be secured for that time frame, just for starters; families of the victims, those intent on prosecuting the case, will have to be secured, too; there was initial talk of four survivors of the massacre and they will have to be secured, too. And the long tedium of the case will provide many opportunities for witnesses to recant or change their stories, or disappear, or, God forbid, families to “lose interest” in the case. And for the government’s actions to be scrutinized and its interpretation of what martial law makes legally permissible, challenged.
If any institutions deserve credit, on the whole, it’s the armed forces and the police, for being careful to avoid giving the impression they were chomping at the bit to relive the days of 1972.