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SC hears 'violations' of PP1017, questions arrests, Tribune raid

The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard the oral arguments on the constitutionality of Proclamation 1017 that put the country under a state of emergency and led to the arrest of opposition lawmakers and the raid of a newspaper office. A coalition of 17 lawyer organizations, the Daily Tribune and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines filed seven petitions before the Supreme Court questioning the legality of the proclamation. The petitioners alleged the proclamation was issued as "a subterfuge to avoid the constitutional requirements for the imposition of martial law or suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, as well as avoid congressional scrutiny into the President's exercise of martial law powers." They also questioned the warrantless arrests and media raid made by the police in pursuit of the implementing guidelines of the proclamation. At least two justices questioned the arrest of Randolf David, a University of the Philippines professor, and the takeover of the Daily Tribune during Tuesday’s hearing. “Was Professor David informed that he was being charged for any crime that would justify inquest?" Justice Romeo J. Callejo, Sr. was quoted asking lawyer Harry Roque, David’s counsel. Roque told the justices the arresting officers invoked Proclamation 1017 when David was arrested. He said the policemen they "invited" David for questioning. David was on February 24 and was charged with violation of Batas Pambansa 880 or the Public Assembly Act and inciting to sedition. Arroyo issued Proclamation 1017 on February 24, citing an alleged coup plot by a loose coalition of renegade soldiers, communist groups and their supporters from the political opposition. Former senator Rene Saguisag, counsel for The Daily Tribune, also argued that the raid of the paper’s office in Manila on February 25 curtailed freedom of expression and of the press. Saguisag also sought a clear-cut ruling from the tribunal on the constitutionality of the proclamation, saying the move against the Tribune was a warning against the bigger media and the government was just "testing the waters." The petitioners said the proclamation had a "chilling effect" on civil liberties. GOVT LAWYER GRILLED Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban said he understood the arguments of those opposed to Proclamation 1017, but added he “could not catch" the government’s basis in declaring a state of national emergency. "I could not catch your theory, the fact that you were answering questions to please the justices more than to defend Proclamation 1017," Panganiban told Solicitor-General Alfredo Benipayo. Panganiban noted some conflicts in government’s offered reasons behind the weeklong emergency rule. Panganiban said emergency powers could be invoked by the President if “there is state of lawlessness amounting to mutiny or rebellion or an attempted coup so much on the need to call the Armed Forces." "Second, there is a state of national emergency as taken from Article 12 Section 17 of the Constitution and yet there is not a statement that the economy is in bad shape," he said. “In fact, there seems to be a statement that the country is in very good shape...the stock market is very good, investors are putting their money. Where is the emergency in the economy then?" Panganiban said. Associate Justice Reynato Puno also questioned the validity of the Tribune raid. Benipayo, the government’s counsel, admitted the raid was done without a search warrant. “Why do you have to go there at 1 a.m. without a warrant when all they have to do is to get past issues?" Puno asked Benipayo. He also asked about the findings on the arrests of David and Anakpawis Rep. Crispin Beltran. Puno noted that since Beltran had been accused of conspiring with the New People’s Army since 2003, a complaint should have been filed much earlier. Associate Justice Romeo Callejo wondered why Beltran was arrested for inciting to sedition “but was inquested for rebellion." "That's queer," Callejo said. “I am at a loss here." Benipayo said Beltran was charged with two charges of rebellion. "Why was he charged with two charges of rebellion when rebellion is a continuing crime?" Callejo asked. "I don't know," Benipayo answered. After almost 10 hours of oral arguments, the high tribunal ordered both parties to submit their memoranda in 15 days. MOTION TO DISMISS Government lawyers planned to ask the Supreme Court to dismiss the petitions questioning the legality of Proclamation 1017. Benipayo submitted the government’s motion to dismiss on Monday. The Solicitor General said the petitions have become moot since President Arroyo recalled last Friday Proclamation 1017. Named respondents in the petitions were President Arroyo in her capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz Jr, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Generoso Senga and National Police Director Gen. Arturo Lomibao. Benipayo argued there was nothing illegal about the proclamation because it was within the powers of the President to declare such emergencies. He cited the state of rebellion declared by Mrs. Arroyo in 2003 after the failed coup by mutinous Magdalo soldiers. The declaration, Benipayo noted, was sustained by the Supreme Court. Benipayo justified that the deployment of police officers and soldiers to media entities. He said it was intended to protect media from leftist and rightist groups that might take advantage of the political crisis. – GMANews.TV, with reports from and BusinessWorld