The Long View: How the President called the public’s bluff

The Long View
How the President called the public’s bluff

By Manuel L. Quezon III

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:46:00 12/13/2009

CAROLYNN ARGUILLAS, reporting in MindaNews on Dec. 9, detailed how justice slowed down after martial law was imposed in Maguindanao. Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer asserted that a limitation of the state of emergency was, it required the military and police to secure warrants. Martial law, he said, permitted warrantless arrests and searches. And yet Arguillas observed that the military approached the Ampatuan properties more gingerly after martial law, taking hours to negotiate entry into properties like Andal Ampatuan Sr.’s mansion.

I have a theory, based on Sen. Francis Pangilinan’s line of questioning addressed to Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera. He challenged the administration’s assertion that martial law gave the government two powers it would otherwise not enjoy: warrantless arrests and searches. Pangilinan didn’t contest warrantless arrests for the crime of rebellion, but said he was troubled that the administration thought it could dispense with search warrants.

I think the military was bothered by the administration assertion, too; but then I also think the military (the police, it seems, were just clumsy overall) was more inclined to scrupulously ensure no abuses or flouting of the law would taint its conduct during martial law. The painstaking negotiations to enter the Ampatuan properties ensured that even without a warrant, anything discovered would remain legally admissible – the military didn’t barge in, it secured permission.

It also seems to me that even if, by all accounts, the Palace had the votes in Congress to block the revocation of martial law, and felt reasonably confident the Supreme Court might see things its way, it couldn’t risk waiting in agony only to end up the way Devanadera did: mutely gulping like a goldfish in the face of Sen. Rodolfo Biazon’s question on what exactly were the legal impediments she claimed had been eliminated by martial law.

Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. suggested, after martial law was lifted last Saturday, that in truth all that martial law offers is “shock and awe,” that is, its psychological impact is what matters. Which is why President Macapagal-Arroyo had to impose it to break the Mexican standoff in Maguindanao by cowing the Ampatuans who had no idea what it really meant or how long it might last.

He may be correct. Arguillas reported that on the morning after martial law was proclaimed, Andal Ampatuan Sr. was ready by 1 a.m., while ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan was all set to go by 7 a.m.; neither resisted military invitations to be taken into government custody. Martial law is the ultimate political bluff: and the senators were calling the bluff in terms of fact and law.

Two other psychological aspects come to mind. First, the ability of the President to get the military, the police and the bureaucracy to implement martial law has been conclusively proven. So has the inability of Congress to move with speed and of the Supreme Court to render judgment on the factual basis for the martial law imposition and the suspension of the writ.

Sen. Miriam Santiago circled the Cabinet like a Valkyrie, pelting it with law books. Sen. Richard Gordon zeroed in on the command responsibility of the administration’s candidate during his stint as defense chief, while Rep. Satur Ocampo demonstrated how difficult it is for any government to secure convictions for rebellion.

While irrelevant to the mindless vote the House of Representatives was poised to accomplish, these points are important in terms of 2010. They also underscore how, in this clash of government branches, neither the legislature nor judiciary mattered. The ultimate check on the President’s powers came from the public – including those who hailed martial law.

Locsin, in putting forward a case for martial law, which the administration itself was too incompetent to think up, said that public outrage and the demands of justice “cry out for the most extreme exercise of the police power, which is nothing less than martial law.”

Writing in MindaNews, Gail Ilagan had previously cautioned the media over thoughtlessly amplifying calls for aggressive action without taking heed of the consequences of those calls. Martial law was the bastard child of public outrage and official panic.

The public message had, indeed, been a simple, and ferocious one: get the Ampatuans for committing mass murder and at all costs – so long as no one outside Maguindanao has to get a dose of the Ampatuans’ medicine.

I think the Palace was aware from the start that this was a non-debatable condition imposed even by those hailing the President’s decision. But even as Archbishop Orlando Quevedo bestowed the mandate of heaven on martial law, there emerged two troubling conditions. First, Bishop Martin Jumoad of Isabela prayed for martial law in Basilan, and PaLaKa regional chairman for Region X Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo demanded that martial law be imposed in Lanao del Norte.Then, like a swarm of army ants, all sorts of forces started acting aggressively, taking hostages, conducting raids, and generally creating the kind of mayhem that had people wondering nervously if those demanding martial law and the forces taking advantage of the armed forces’ and police’s concentration in Maguindanao might lead to a confluence of events conducive to more martial law declarations.

So martial law had to be lifted before Congress or the Supreme Court could act, or public opinion could harden.

The Ampatuans are where the Palace needs them – out of sight, and thus out of mind – and political points have been scored. But these will have no relevance, in turn, to the actual results the public cares about: the prosecution of psychopathic warlords for mass murder.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

23 thoughts on “The Long View: How the President called the public’s bluff

  1. If the investigation for murder gets drowned by the rebellion charges, then once more this Administration has screwed the entire nation.

  2. “That little girl must be amused and laughing at us [after] tormenting us legislators and petitioners who went to the Supreme Court.” Senator Joker Arroyo

  3. Oh, yes. Actually that little girl, out of her amusement over how we scampered in all directions like headless chicken when she declared ML, jumped up and down the whole day until she developed “luslus” and had to be rushed to St. Luke real quick for medical attention.

  4. Malacanang was not incompetent but in fact, thorough. Locsin may have provided the reasons why the public was in support of martial law —- mass murder of journalists — but that reasoning was not in compliance with the 1987 Constitution.

  5. Sunday, 13 Dec. 2009

    By the latest development, your Philippine President does not really need any Congress or Supreme Court who just like a turtle is taking all its sweetness in reaching vital, swift decisions. The President had Proclaimed and had lifted her Martial Law. However, it appears that more violence are brewing daily with the kidnapping of civilians, the atrocious and vicious attacks on jails wherein criminals were able to escape and some people were killed.

    We just hope with the grace of God that the TRUE CASE of 57 innocent civilians are awaiting the wheels of justice to turn more swiftly and will not be put on the back burner by all these incidents which appears to be orchestrated to veer away attention from the horrific crimes perpetrated on November 23, 2009.

    In the meantime, the government should not shy away from disarming ALL elements in the Southern Philippines. The only legitimate agencies to have firearms are the AFP and the Police. All others with firearms must be charged with illegal possession of firearms. That you do not need any Martial Law Proclamation.

  6. The govt pullback from its over reaction to the situation from ML to a state of emergency was the only prudent thing to do given the circumstances on the ground. It could be argued that the govt was expending too much effort reporting to Congress defending its actions rather than actually pursuing what the public wanted from it: the capture of the masterminds and disarming of their forces. Now it can quietly do its work.

  7. Declaring Martial Law without justifiable reason is a case of usurpation. Isn’t it right? In that case, it is our turn to be amused of that little girl in Malacanang and Joker, as her counsel, to be busy at long last.

  8. Just couldn’t get the gulping goldfish image of Sec. Devanadera out of my mind since I read this article this morning. Like the “morning song” syndrome (?), I guess.

    Sayang tapos na ang Muppets show. O meron pa ba?

  9. without ML, there’s no impediment now for devanadera’s return to politics (via Quezon congressional race). she took the baton from her sister and made it to today’s deadline of filing her COC.

    what made it so special is that she may hold on to the DOJ post until june 30 c/o the SC’s recent decision that appointive officials need not resign.

    …swarm the HOR in 2010, the main goal…

  10. public welfare is the last thing malacanang had in mind when it declared martial law! it was to take of it’s loyal ally the ampatuans and then is how to save face!

    again, it’s moro-moro time!

  11. Can we ask what happened to Villar? Is the Maguindanao Issue too small or too little to be frilled about? Or was he one of those backhoed in the digging? It is surprising that he kept his silence in the midst of such detestable and unprecedented carnage?

    Would this prove that indeed Manny Villar is the real admin bet and the tiny little girl in Malacanang ordered him to keep his mouth shut?

    Akala ko komo siya ay Anak-mahirap, galit siya pag inaapi ang mahirap. Maraming mahirap ang tinabunan sa Maguindanao bakit tahimik siya?

    There is also an OFW among the victims and 30 press journalist. Baka naman in reality isa si Villar sa mga Ampatuan….

  12. “The painstaking negotiations to enter the Ampatuan properties ensured that even without a warrant, anything discovered would remain legally admissible—the military didn’t barge in, it secured permission.”

    This is something that the military had been able to demonstrate consistently despite with its warrantless search power with regards to Ampatuan properties in multiple locations. It is task not easy to do unless clearly told upon the commanders by the government legal teams.

    This demonstrated that the government has the foresight to preserve admissability of evidences acquired through Martial Law should SC declare the proclamation has no basis under 1987 charter.

    Secretary Agnes Devanadera must have been a goldfish extraordinaire to confuse Biazon so as not to telegraph to the Ampatuans what government forces are doing on the ground with appreciated risks on evidences.

    Sharp analysis, Manolo.

  13. Let me return to a thought. The fact that the public (indignant about the mass killing) was supportive of Maguindanao martial law did not automatically give Malacanang the prerogative to declare martial law. Public Clamor did not mean A-Okay by the constitution. Malacanang needed to conform its declarations to the Constitution — hence, rebellion.

    Lesson of Maguindanao mass-killing — public clamor for a particular action is not sufficient. The Constitution gets in the way of things, no different than “surge-the-Malacanang-gates” after LeCirque.

  14. The Sec Of justice lawyered for the big 3 oil companies, remember? When the RTC of Makati ordered the oil companies to open their books, she came to their rescue by saying that they can not be obliged to follow the order of the court.

    Now that gasoline is even more expensive than softdrinks, the good secretary of justice may be having so much fun swimming on oil rather than in the clear blue sea.

  15. The Ampatuans, because of their money and because they are Muslims whose rights are of interest to Syria, Saudi Arabia, even Indonesia, will create so much problem for the Philippine courts and trials system.

    In some sense, I expect that Philippine jurisprudence will be moved forward by the time that a Supreme Court decision is reached regarding the Ampatuans. One of the details that will be clarified —- which portions of the Constitution, if any, get suspended during periods of martial law.

  16. The Ampatuans, because of their money and because they are Muslims whose rights are of interest to Syria, Saudi Arabia, even Indonesia, will create so much problem for the Philippine courts and trials system.

    Yes. Their lawyers could use the “religious persecution” or discrimination as a trump card.

  17. Is there a possibility that this part of the country can finally toe the line and accept one government, one police force, and one armed forces like the rest of us normal people.
    Unless we can simplify this otherwise complex arrangement (with no arrangements), this is a no-win situation. These are ordinary human beings just like us, why can’t they just accept/respect government authority like everyone else?

  18. Governments legitimization of warlords. The PNP is directly under the DILG which is a direct line agency of the executive department.

    These warlords are like our Mindanao version “neighborhood watch” but on steroids. I doubt that this arrangement will ever work no matter how I look at it.

  19. Wow! Only in mlq’s blog… But let’s move farther.

    Exit government legitimized warlords and the imaginary rebels. Enter MILF/NPA, the real thing. From the frying pan into the fire. Is this fear valid?

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