Opposition loses bid for joint session

HOUSE leaders on Monday struck down efforts of the opposition bloc to have Congress convene a joint session to discuss President Rodrigo Duterte’s imposition of martial law in Mindanao.

This came as House Majority Floor Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas presented Duterte’s martial law report during the plenary session.

Fariñas said the House will convene into a committee of the whole with concerned Palace officials on Wednesday for a briefing on the situation in Mindanao, especially in Marawi City.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman argued that Congress needed to convene in a joint session so as not to deprive the public of information they need to know about martial law, but his motion was defeated in viva voce voting.

Defense and Palace officials, meanwhile, assured senators in a closed-door briefing that the situation in Mindanao would be normalized, and that the Maute Group would be neutralized within the 60-day period of effectivity of military rule.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon told the senators that Marawi City would be back to normal within 60 days or less.

He insisted on the need for the President to impose martial law in the entire Mindanao island because the Armed Forces was dealing with a group with links to foreign Islamic State terrorists.

He appealed for the support of the senators and the public in the fight against terrorist groups.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana  promised to do their best effort to control the situation in Marawi City by Friday.

Liberal Party president Senator Francis Pangilinan said they would see if this promise could be met.

Senators JV Ejercito and Manny Pacquiao, on the other hand, said they were convinced of the necessity of martial law in Mindanao, and said this was justified by the ongoing rebellion.

Pacquiao, however, said it would be difficult for the military to put an end to the crisis in just one week.

“This is no joke, this is terrorist group,” said Pacquiao. 

Pangilinan said the Liberal Party can go to the Supreme Court if their colleagues in the Senate block a resolution seeking to convene Congress in joint session to deliberate on Duterte’s declaration of martial law.

In an interview, Pangilinan admitted they do not have the numbers to push through with their assertion that the imposition of martial rule should be tackled in a joint session so they can seek redress from the Supreme Court.

Opposition senators on Monday filed Senate Resolution No. 390 calling on Congress to perform its “sacred duty and peremptory obligation” and hold a joint session on President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law.

Senator Francis Pangilinan
The resolution was filed by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Deputy Minority Leader Paolo Benigno Aquino IV and Senators De Lima, Risa Hontiveros, Pangilinan, and Trillanes.

The joint session seeks to tackle  Duterte’s Proclamation No. 216 entitled “Declaring a State of Martial Law and Suspending the Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Whole of Mindanao.” 

Citing Section 18, Article VII of the Constitution, the senators said, “Congress has the sacred duty and peremptory obligation to seek information surrounding and assess the factual basis for the proclamation and, if warranted, revoke the same.” 

Earlier, several lawmakers said that there is no need for a joint session, and that it is unlikely for Congress to revoke the President’s martial law declaration.

Pangilinan said to allow the President to disregard the Constitution is to open the gates to a dictatorship.

“This we vigorously oppose. Might is not right,” Pangilinan said.

“We call on all citizens to come together and unite to defend the Constitution, our democracy, and the rule of law. We call for courage, for bearers of  light to stand against the looming tide of darkness upon our land,” he added.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said it was already clear that Duterte had no respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions since the day he ordered the killing of people in his fake war on drugs.

Senator Grace Poe said the President cannot simply ignore the Supreme Court and Congress in his martial law declaration. 

“He needs approval from Congress. Congress has to be able to agree that martial law is indeed warranted in this case, but Congress does not have to convene jointly, unless, for example, it will reject martial law. But I think for students of history, it’s good that every senator and every congressman, or at least those who have an interest to manifest, should manifest why they voted as such,” Poe added.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, on the other hand, said the Supreme Court would be rendered “powerless” if Congress affirms the validity of Duterte’s proclamation of martial law. 

Aguirre even urged House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III  to convene Congress and give their approval to the martial law declaration, effectively preempting possible review by the Supreme Court.

“I believe that Congress must meet in a joint session, otherwise, they would not have the option whether to revoke or to affirm the martial law declaration and this will allow the SC to have the last say on the issue,” Aguirre staid.

Once Congress upholds the validity of the impossion of martial law, the Supreme Court would be “almost powerless’ in overriding the Congress and the President.

In his report, Aguirre noted that the joint attack by the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in Marawi City was a prelude to eventually take over the entire island.

“Considering the network and alliance-building activities among terrorist groups, local criminals, and lawless armed men, the siege of Marawi City is a vital cog in attaining their long-standing goal: absolute control over the entirety of Mindanao,” the report said.

“These circumstances demand swift and decisive action to ensure the safety and security of the Filipino people and preserve our national integrity,” it said.

Aguirre also branded as “premature” the statement made by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno on the situation of the country, particularly in Mindanao. Aguirre was referring Sereno’s speech at the Ateneo de Manila Loyola Schools Commencement exercises last Friday where she urged Filipinos to make a stand and act against culture of impunity and protect the fundamental human rights and freedoms as well as the government institutions following Duterte’s imposition of martial law.

Sereno noted that the culture of impunity in the country is on the rise and the people’s fundamental human rights and freedoms are facing “grave and blatant threats.”

Former solicitor general Florin Hilbay on Sunday urged fellow lawyers to sign up for the filing of a petition before Supreme Court to compel Congress to review the martial law proclamation and suspension of writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao.

“Here’s an idea: 300 lawyers signing on to an SC petition to require Congress to comply with its constitutional duty to convene and deliberate,” he said in a Twitter post Sunday.

“Opposing martial law is not about distrusting our military. It’s distrusting politicians who use them. It is opposition to a dictatorship,” he said in an earlier post.

Among those who responded to his post was former deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, who replied: “Where do I sign?”

The former chief state lawyer made the call after administration allies in Congress reportedly said they no longer need to convene to approve the Duterte’s Proclamation No. 216.

Former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and former Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency chief Dionisio Santiago on Monday expressed support for Duterte’s declaration of martial law.

“As a Mindanaoan, I see that the situation now is grave especially in Marawi, if the President has no decisive action. In other words, we could see that declaration of martial law in Mindanao, there is a decisive action by the President so that the problem will not spread,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel said, under the Constitution, in cases of rebellion, the President may declare martial law. 

Santiago said he also supports martial law in Mindanao because of what is happening right now in Marawi.

“It’s already there. We have no choice but to support the administration. If we go against this [martial law], the terrorists will only become stronger,” said Santiago, also a former chief of the Armed Forces.

Santiago also echoed Pimentel’s statement that the public must monitor if there are abuses committed during martial law. With Sandy Araneta

Topics: Senator Francis Pangilinan , Senator JV Ejercito , Congress , House leaders , President Rodrigo Duterte , Martial law , Mindanao , Rep. Rodolfo Farinas , Rep. Edcel Lagman , Palace officials , Hermogenes Esperon , Delfin Lorenzana
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