Sunday, September 17, 2006


With the resurrection of one of a series of decrees denounced by civil libertarians as “repressive” and declared by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo may next declare martial law.


With the resurrection of one of a series of decrees denounced by civil libertarians as “repressive” and declared by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo may next declare martial law. This was the observation made by lawyer Neri Javier Colmenares, spokesperson of the broad-based Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL), in an interview with Bulatlat.

In late September last year, Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 464 requiring cabinet members, police and military generals, senior national security officials, and “such other national officers as may be determined by the (president)” to secure clearance from the Malacañang before testifying in any hearing conducted by the Senate or the House of Representatives.

EO 464 was one of the so-called “repressive” decrees issued by Malacañang amid a spate of challenges to the Arroyo administration, spurred mainly by the revival in mid-2005 of allegations that she cheated her way to victory in the 2004 election – in which she is supposed to have received a fresh mandate three years after being catapulted to power through a popular uprising. The other decrees are: the calibrated preemptive response (CPR) policy issued in mid-September last year, imposing a blanket prohibition on all protest actions against the government; and Presidential Proclamation No. 1017, issued February 2006, declaring a state of emergency throughout the country.

“CPR removed the maximum tolerance policy required even under Batas Pambansa Blg. 880,” Colmenares said. “It was a signal to all police and authorities to use force immediately (on protest actions).”

BP 880 was issued in 1985, amid major rallies against the Marcos dictatorship. Seeking to regulate the conduct of rallies, BP 880 requires groups to secure permits to rally before holding protest actions, but it also requires local government units to approve all applications for rally permits – unless there is evidence of what is called a “clear and present danger” to peace and order.

Colmenares said BP 880 should have been abolished considering the presence of a clear freedom of assembly, speech and expression clause in the 1987 Constitution, but it continues to be used especially under the Arroyo administration.

Art. III, Sec. 4 of the 1987 Constitution provides: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

“In fact Arroyo is the only president to use BP 880 actively since Marcos,” Colmenares said. “Now BP 880 is already repressive, but CPR heightened the repression.”

Meanwhile, Colmenares said, PP 1017 addressed the Arroyo government’s “need” for a situation where it could easily arrest people.

“One way of instituting that was by declaring a state of emergency, where there appeared to be a threat and therefore it would be acceptable if you arrest people,” the CODAL spokesperson said.

He added that PP 1017 produced a “chilling effect” on the people. “They didn’t arrest everyone, but they scared everyone,” he pointed out.

PP 1017 was definitely repressive, Colmenares said. “You don’t declare a state of emergency if there is no emergency,” he said. “You don’t arrest people unless they have committed a crime and there is a warrant of arrest against them – not because you feel that there is a threat against you.”

The imposition of PP 1017 led to the arrests of known activists and opposition figures like professor Randy David and Ronald Llamas, lawyer Argee Guevarra, Reps. Crispin Beltran and Joel Virador, labor leaders Dennis Maga and Marcial Dabela, and retired generals Ramon Montaño and Rex Piad. Beltran continues to languish in detention more than six months after his arrest.

Colmenares said the CPR policy, EO 464, and PP 1017 – put together – amounted to a martial-law legal framework.

“What is martial law?” Colmenares said. “Martial law is a situation where the military reigns supreme over civilian authority. (It is a situation where) the military has held sway over the rest of the government.”

Lawyers’ groups like CODAL and the Alternative Law Group (ALG) contested the CPR policy, EO 464 and PP 1017 before the Supreme Court.

On May 3, the Supreme Court struck down the CPR policy, EO 464, and portions of PP 1017 as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court particularly ruled against the warrantless arrests conducted under PP 1017.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling on the said decrees, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita issued, by authority from Malacañang, Memorandum Circular No. 108 – essentially a rehash of EO 464 – last July 26.

When asked whether he thought Arroyo would eventually resurrect the CPR policy and PP 1017 under different names, considering the issuance of MC 108, Colmenares said the next step may be an outright declaration of martial law.

“It can happen again,” he said. “Maybe they’ll next declare martial law.” Bulatlat

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