Published on September 21, 2011
“Insofar as civil and political rights are concerned, dictatorial and repressive rulings in laws and jurisprudence remain and are still being abused.” – Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Thirty-nine years after the declaration of martial law and twenty five years since the ouster of the late Ferdinand E. Marcos from Malacañang, the repressive decrees, executive orders and jurisprudence that were issued during his dictatorship continue to be used against the Filipino people.
Marcos placed the entire country under martial law on September 21, 1972. He abolished Congress, shut down media establishments, and ordered the arrest and detention of thousands of people, including activists from the ranks of the youth and students, workers, peasants, the urban poor, the church among others, and opposition leaders.
But the Filipino people refused to be cowed. After 14 years, the Marcos dictatorship was ousted by a people power uprising.
There were much expectations on the administration of the late president Cory Aquino, especially with regards dismantling all the vestiges of martial law. Her administration immediately ordered the release of all political prisoners, restored the institutions of democracy and the people’s formal democratic rights, formed a governmental commission on human rights, and worked for the inclusion of provisions protecting human rights in the 1987 Constitution.
However, the Cory Aquino administration fell short of rescinding the repressive decrees and issuances of the dictator Marcos. And so did the succeeding administrations.
“Insofar as civil and political rights are concerned, dictatorial and repressive rulings in laws and jurisprudence remain and are still being abused,” Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said.
Olalia cited the Ilagan vs. Ponce-Enrile, a Supreme Court decision rendering moot and academic the remedy of habeas corpus upon the subsequent filing of charges.
The said jurisprudence was used when the Court of Appeals junked the habeas corpus petition of relatives of the 43 health workers arrested in Morong, Rizal, collectively known as the Morong 43, in February 2010.
“Once a person is duly charged in court, he may no longer question his detention through a petition for issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be allowed after the party sought to be released had been charged before any court,” the CA said in its decision.
“Judicial relief cannot be availed of because of this doctrine,” Olalia said. “The mere filing of information or a formal charge subsequent to the arrest, no matter how illegal it is, regardless of the multiplicity of violations of the constitutional rights of the accused, is enough basis for dismissing the habeas corpus petition.”
The NUPL and the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), whose members serve as lawyers of the Morong 43, appealed the CA decision before the Supreme Court. The appeal remains pending.
Olalia said they are hopeful that the Supreme Court will not dismiss or declare their appeal as moot given the release of most of the Morong 43 from detention. “Fundamental issues are involved here,” he said.
PILC said this jurisprudence has served as a tool of the government, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to carry out the “unlawful warrantless arrest and arbitrary detention of members of progressive organizations.”
Olalia noted that the 1985 ruling was promulgated by Marcos’s Supreme Court, which, he said, “constitutionalized repressive measures.”
Another martial law doctrine, Presidential Decree 1866 as amended, allowing the filing of charges of illegal possession of firearms with respect to political offenses, is still being used against activists. This paved the way for the filing of criminal charges against those suspected of committing political offenses such as rebellion.
The Morong 43 have been charged with this offense. According to human rights group Karapatan, as of August this year, at least 64 of the 350 political prisoners have been slapped with charges of illegal possession of firearms and illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Also commonly used against activist groups is the Batas Pambansa 880 (BP 880) that restricts and controls the right to peaceful assembly. This law requires that permits for rallies be applied for.
Olalia related that when Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) sought permit from the local government to hold a rally during President Benigno S. Aquino III’s second State of the Nation Address (Sona), the Quezon City local government denied the application for permit. When the NUPL filed a petition to such denial, the local court also denied the petition.
“Repressive as already it is, directives and safeguards of BP 880 are not followed. It’s just a simple rally,” Olalia said. Under BP 880, failure of the local government to act on the application for permit within two working days, renders the application as being granted. In the case of Bayan’s application, the local government did not act within two working days and denied the application nevertheless.
While Olalia welcomed the Supreme Court decision striking down the calibrated preemptive response (CPR) during the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration, he expressed regret that the high court affirmed BP 880.
On Sept. 21, 2005, the thirty-third anniversary of martial law, then Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita announced the enforcement of a “no permit, no rally” policy and the CPR. Bayan filed a petition before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of CPR and BP 880. The high court nullified the CPR but upheld the constitutionality of BP 880.?
Other Marcosian decrees that are still being used are General Orders 66 and 67 (authorizing checkpoints and warrantless searches and Presidential Decree 169 as amended (requiring physicians to report cases of patients with gunshot wounds to the police/military).
Under the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) signed by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP, now Government of the Philippines of GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in March 1998, the GRP committed to work for the immediate repeal of all subsisting repressive laws, decrees, or other executive issuances. CARHRIHL cited not only those under Marcos but also executive issuances and jurisprudence under the administrations of Corazon Aquino and of Fidel Ramos.
CARHRIHL also provides that: “Upon the effectivity of this Agreement, the GRP shall, as far as practicable, not invoke these repressive laws, decrees and orders to circumvent or contravene the provisions of this Agreement.”
Twelve years since the signing of CARHRIHL, these repressive laws remain in force.
Olalia said, despite the strong clamor to junk these repressive decrees and laws, it appears that subsequent post-martial law administrations retained these because these are favorable to them. “These repressive issuances are part of the overall state apparatus to suppress the civil and political rights of the people.”
He said the mindset that the state can just violate human rights remains. “They have the mindset that we are the rulers and you are mere subjects.”
While Olalia said there is no longer an open fascist rule, state repression has not changed “essentially and fundamentally.”
“In the contradiction between the government having very broad and wide powers and its duty to protect the individual and collective rights of the Filipino people, the three branches tend to give weight on the powers of the state, which is very regretful to say the least because individual and collective rights are actually the very bases of this government,” Olalia said.
Asked to comment on the Aquino administration, Olalia said human rights is not a priority of Aquino.
“He chose to release military rebels but not the political prisoners, 85 percent of whom were detained during the Arroyo administration and he is a beneficiary of that struggle,” Olalia said.
He said the struggle for human rights shall continue. “The triumphs of the struggles for human rights are not won overnight, it is incremental, cumulative, arduous and require continuing sacrifice and struggle. The government, having absolute powers, will never tire to suppress the people. There is no other choice for the people but to fight for and defend their rights.”