Some 300 lawyers urged the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday to compel the Senate and the House of Representatives to convene and vote jointly on President Rodrigo Duterte’s Proclamation 216 declaring martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao, following the siege in Marawi City.
The petitioners were led by jailed Sen. Leila de Lima, former senator Rene Saguisag, former Commission on Elections chairman Christian Monsod, former Commission on Human Rights chief Loretta Ann Rosales, former Philippine Health Insurance Corp. president Alexander Padilla, and Rene Gorospe.
Named as respondents were Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
Ex-solicitor general Florin Hilbay, also one of the petitioners, said Congress has the power to revoke martial law and the “constitutional obligation to have a joint session to exercise that power both to revoke or to affirm,” for transparency and accountability and to protect the people from “potential abuses.”
“They cannot exercise the power to revoke by silence or by resolution by separate houses,” he added.
The petitioners asked the Supreme Court to intervene because “the Senate and the House of Representatives have unlawfully neglected the performance of an act, which the 1987 Constitution specifically enjoins as a duty resulting from their office.”
Article VII, Section 18 of the Constitution, they argued, is clear in stating that Congress has the “mandatory obligation” to convene in joint session.
They branded as “absurd” arguments raised by House leaders that Congress should only convene to revoke the proclamation.
“Petitioners seek nothing more than compliance with a minimum procedural fidelity to the mechanisms enshrined in the Constitution meant to prevent abuse of power and to ensure popular mandate in the exercise of the Presidential martial law powers,” the petitioners said.
Oral arguments set
On Monday, Representatives Edcel Lagman, Tomasito Villarin, Gary Alejano, Emmanuel Billones and Teodoro Baguilat Jr. filed a 31-page petition questioning the basis of Proclamation 216 before the high tribunal.
The Supreme Court set oral arguments at 10 a.m. on June 13, 14, and 15, at the New Session Hall in Manila.
It told the Office of the Solicitor General, for and in behalf of the respondents, to comment on the petition not later than June 12 at 12 noon. It also ordered the docket receiving section to be open on June 12, Independence Day, a national holiday.
Counsels for the parties were required to attend a preliminary conference on June 12 at 2 p.m., and submit their respective memoranda not later than June 19 at 2 p.m.
Lagman warned Solicitor General Jose Calida against belittling the seven lawmakers who filed the petition.
Lagman, the lead petitioner, was responding to Calida’s tirade that they were rabble-rousers and psychotics.
“If Calida has not read the 30-page petition or has nothing yet to say traversing its merits, he should hold his tongue and study the case seriously. The petitioners’ well-reasoned petition contains legal and factual verities, not psychotic perorations,” Lagman, a lawyer, said in a statement.
“The congressional records of the petitioners verily show that they are vigilant and hardworking lawmakers who vigorously protect the independence of the legislature, safeguard the civil liberties of the people and actively participate in the debates on important legislation,” Lagman said.
Lagman also scored Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo for branding the petition as black propaganda, saying the statement must be disregarded as a “stereotypical reaction by apologists of the President.”
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd claimed the petitions were courting a constitutional crisis.
He pointed out that Congress had decided against a joint session and there was a possibility the legislature would disregard the high tribunal.
At least 12 senators have rejected the resolution filed by members of the Senate minority bloc asking Congress to convene in joint session and deliberate on the declaration of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
But Pimentel said the court should step in as referee and settle differing interpretations of the constitutional provisions on martial rule.
“Let us be guided by the Supreme Court pronouncement on the issue,” the Senate chief said.