Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Two episodes in two countries thousand miles apart illustrate caliber of their respective officials: 187 US mayors and 10 governors defy President Trump’s rejection of Paris Agreement as they invoke their rights under federal system. Here at home ruling coalition in both chambers of Congress prove willingness to thwart Constitution in support of Duterte's martial law in Mindanao.

One episode involves President Donald Trump and his horrendous decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change signed by 195 nations across the globe, including the US, in 2015. With that pullout,Trump put the US into the miserable company of just two other countries that didn’t sign the Agreement: Iraq and Syria (the IS no less!).  In protest of Trump's unilateral move, however, a group of initially 187 mayors and 10 governors across the US---most notably of California, New York and Washington---have declared that they will not comply with the pullout; instead, they vowed to work independently of their government's move, to meet their cities’ clean-air goals and conform to the Paris Accord’s target of 1.2 degrees Celsius within our century.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez: a cop-out on the martial law issue
This rebellion by local US officials and their assertion of independence from the White House should be attributed mainly to the strength of the federal system operating in the US---whereby each state is virtually sovereign in its decisions. We in the Philippines could do well to acquire this laudable independence generated by the federal system, instead of the feudal lord-and-serf relationship between the President and the politicians. 


By contrast, the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives have proved too pliant toward the President as to thwart provisions of the Constitution governing martial law declaration. In Sec. 18 of Art. VII, titled the "Executive Department," the Constitution provides that Congress “voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its Members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension (of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus), which revocation shall not be set aside by the President.”

 In fact, the Constitution went further by providing in the next paragraph of Sec. 18 that Congress, “if not in session, shall within twenty-four hours following such proclamation or suspension, convene in accordance with its rules  without need of a call" (all emphases BOC's).

Moreover, in the last paragraph of Sec. 18. the Constitution decrees that the Supreme Court "may review the sufficiency of the factual basis for the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus” and must promulgate its decision within 30 days of the filing.


The Constitution is very clear on the steps to be taken in the event of a martial law declaration, but these steps were disregarded by Congress in that its two chambers chose to convene NOT IN JOINT SESSION BUT SEPARATELY. Former Senate President. Nene Pimentel, a victim of the Marcos martial law regime and a libertarian up to his current super-senior years, was cited in media as calling the attention of the Senate that SEPARATE VOTING BY THE TWO CHAMBERS IS WRONG AND CONTRAVENES THE CONSTITUTION.  But he was  ignored by his own son, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, as the two chambers of Congress voted separately.to uphold martial law in Mindanao.

I can see why these two chambers decided to vote separately on that issue. In the heat of debate in an entire Congress assembled, certain points could be raised by smart and intelligent legislators that could ruin support for the administration's pet baby---martial law regime in Mindanao. . 


In the light of refusal by Congress to a joint session and vote on martial law, as called for by the Constitution, three separate citizens’ groups---namely, lawyers led by former Sen. Wigberto Tañada and bishops Antonio Tobias and Deogracia Yñiguez; the opposition group of House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman, called the "Magnificent Seven," and another group led by former Aquino Solicitor General Florin Hilbay---filed separate motions before the Supreme Court, asking it to order both chambers of Congress to convene in joint session  FOR THE NEEDED REVIEW OF THE MARTIAL LAW PROCLAMATION. 

In today's Inquirer, however, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, in response to these three SC petitions by citizens, was quoted as declaring bluntly that he, "would not honor any Supreme Court order that would require Congress to convene a joint session on the declaration of martial law in Mindanao."  In fact, Alvarez was quoted as vowing, "in jest, that he would tear such an order to pieces.”

Manila Times columnist Francisco “Kit” Tatad is absolutely correct: The present crisis of the Nation is not in Mindanao; it's right there in Congress which has proved so pliant toward the President, to the point of a possible thwarting of provisions of the Constitution. Members of Congress may not realize fully that the battle vs.the possible thwarting of the rule of law has to be fought step by step, and right now members of both chambers of Congress are choosing to ignore the safeguards in the Constitution designed to protect our civil rights. Voting separately---instead of jointly--on the martial law issue was an abdication of their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution.  


The SC has scheduled three days of hearing on the three pleadings on this issue, and doubtless Speaker Alvarez's bravado pronouncements have push the SC's back to the wall, weakening it. But what if the independent streak gets the better of CJ Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and a few other brave magistrates---so that the High Court rules Congress' joint session and vote on martial law unconstitutional?  It would be a first-rate crisis. 

The problem is that once such defiance of the Constitution takes place, it is easy enough to ignore other provisions that safeguard human rights and civil liberties. The latest developments in Congress are truly bringing the nation to a crisis worse than the IS-influenced destruction in Mindanao---because its effects would be more far-reaching. The beginning of the end for the rule of law? 


TV videos of Marawi City are so heartbreaking---buildings, including Moslem temples, as well as homes virtually reduced to rubble, the  Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians burned down and its religious images cruelly smashed with armalites by terrorists,  smoke billowing everywhere in the city. A panning shot of Marawi City made it look like it’s taken from an epic Hollywood war movie--- except that the destruction is real in this only true Islamic city in PH. How can Marawi recover its glory days?

I can't help but be a bit nostalgic for the mid-90s when my husband was commander of all of Mindanao, prior to its division into two commands. The big island was quiet, peaceful and so idyllic in those years, and we were able to travel all over with minimum security;  thus we saw the physical grandeur as well as the rich culture of Mindanao. In the two years that Lt. Gen. Cunanan commanded the big island, there were only two episodes that marred the peace. 


One was the explosion of a small bomb inside the Davao Cathedral that ripped a little portion of the floor, but nobody got hurt. The other episode involved the kidnapping of American bible translator Charles Walton by the Abu Sayyaf which the US Embassy monitored closely.  In connection with the rescue operation of the elderly missionary, the military allowed media observers to fly to Zamboanga with VP/Anti-Crime Czar Joseph Estrada and DILG Secretary Raffy Alunan. From there we were taken to Basilan to wait in the fringe of the thick forest for Walton.

Finally the American emerged, held tightly by the arms by swarthy, burly guys and then we all proceeded to downtown Basilan so he could talk to his wife in Philadelphia. Walton, however, couldn't say a word---tears just flowed down his face. Gen. Cunanan then called President Ramos on the public telephone, so that FVR could talk to Walton---interestingly, connection to Malacanang took far longer than to Philadelphia (there were no perfected cellphones then yet).Now one sees only all the horrible destruction of the once-beautiful city of Marawi in TV reports  and one ends up pining for lost days. 

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