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House opposition eyes questioning Mindanao martial law before SC

THE OPPOSITION. Representatives Teddy Baguilat Jr, Edcel Lagman, Tom Villarin, and Gary Alejano hold a press conference on May 30, 2017. Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Members of the House opposition are considering questioning President Rodrigo Duterte’s factual basis for declaring martial law in Mindanao before the highest court in the land.

Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman said there is a "very clear possibility" that they will be filing a case before the Supreme Court (SC) to question Duterte’s Proclamation No. 216.

"That is a very clear possibility. Not only with respect to the refusal of the leadership to convene in joint session but also on the factual basis of martial law, which according to the Constitution, the Supreme Court has jurisdiction," said Lagman.

Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23 following clashes between government forces and the Maute Group in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur. (READ: Opposition lawmakers hit ‘creeping authoritarianism’ under Duterte)

The 1987 Constitution allows the President to declare martial law for 60 days. Congress, voting jointly, has the power to revoke or extend martial law.

The SC may also review a martial law declaration following an "appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen" to determine the sufficiency of the factual basis of the martial law proclamation or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

The High Court must release a decision 30 days upon the filing of a petition.

But leaders of the 17th Congress, mostly composed of Duterte allies, are not keen on convening in a joint session.

Both Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas believe Congress does not need to concur with the declaration and only needs to convene if it will revoke or extend martial law. (READ: Congress ‘unlikely’ to revoke martial law in Mindanao)

The House will be briefed by Cabinet officials and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Mujiv Hataman on Wednesday, May 31, on the situation in Mindanao.

Senators were already given a briefing by national security officials on Monday, May 29, in a closed-door session.

‘Constitutional violation’

For Lagman, Congress’ failure to convene in a joint session following Duterte’s martial law proclamation is a "grave constitutional violation."

"We believe that it’s more than a political question. It is a constitutional violation, which the Supreme Court [should] review and adjudicate," said Lagman.

The lawmaker said they are not in a rush to file the SC petition but will likely do so "very soon."

He added that they are in talks with other "kindred spirits" who are also against martial law in Mindanao, including constitutionalist Christian Monsod and former solicitor general Florin Hilbay.

"You will have to craft very well the petition. It’s not a matter of rushing it… Maraming grupo ang gustong mag-file (There are a lot of groups who wish to file)… Each group may file their own but the SC may subsequently consolidate all these petitions," said Lagman.

Seven other lawmakers forming the Makabayan bloc on Tuesday filed a resolution at the House, calling for a joint congressional session to revoke the martial law declaration. The Makabayan bloc argued that Duterte’s report to Congress on martial law in Mindanao revealed "exaggeration or falsity of the alleged events." – Rappler.com