THE Supreme Court today upheld President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s power to declare a state of emergency but ruled that acts committed by government authorities under Proclamation 1017 were illegal.
Voting 11-3, the Court said that while PP 1017 was constitutional, insofar as it constituted a call by Arroyo for the armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, the warrantless arrests and search of the Daily Tribune office were in violation of the law.
On February 24, Arroyo placed the country under a state of national emergency, claiming that there was a leftist-rightist plot to topple her administration. A week after, the president lifted PP 1017, declaring that the alleged “conspiracy” has been successfully dealt with and that peace and order has been restored.
Following the issuance of PP 1017, University of the Philippines professor and Inquirer columnist Randy David, Akbayan national president Ronald Llamas, and members of the Kilusang Mayo Uno were arrested without warrant while they were holding street protests in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Edsa 1.
A day after, police raided the office of the Daily Tribune, after a warning from the Palace that the media should refrain from publishing rumors and baseless information. Malacañang likewise hinted of a possible takeover of public utilities including media organizations.
The Court said that the warrantless arrests of David and Llamas and the dispersal and warrantless arrests of KMU and NAFLU-KMU members were illegal “ in the absence of proof that (they) were committing acts constituting lawless violence, invasion or rebellion and violating BP 880 (or the Public Assembly Act).”
The “warrantless search of the Tribune offices and whimsical seizure of its articles for publication and other materials (is) declared unconstitutional,” the Court added.
The 78-page ruling was penned by Justice Angelina Sandoval Gutierrez.
Those who concurred were Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban and Associate Justices Leonardo A. Quisumbing, Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Antonio T. Carpio, Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, Conchita Carpio Morales, Romeo J. Callejo Sr., Adolfo S. Azcuna, Minita V. Chico-Nazario, and Cancio C. Garcia. Panganiban and Justice Ynares-Santiago both wrote separate concurring opinions.
Justice Dante O. Tinga issued a dissenting opinion, concurred in by Justices Renato C. Corona and Presbitero Jr. Velasco Jr. Senior Associate Justice Reynato S. Puno, meanwhile, was on leave.
“PP 1017’s extraneous provisions giving the President express or implied power to direct the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) to enforce obedience to all laws even those not related to lawless violence and to impose standards on media or any form of prior restraint on the press, are ultra vires and unconstitutional,” it said.
The Court also held that under Section 17, Article XII of the Constitution, “the President, in the absence of a legislation, cannot take over privately-owned public utility and private business affected with public interest.”
In her concurring opinion, Justice Ynares-Santiago added that as per the powers vested in the president by Article VII, “Arroyo cannot arrogate unto herself the power to take over or direct the operation of any privately owned public utility or business affected with public interest without congressional authorization.”
The Supreme Court further declared General Order No. 5, which implemented PP 1017, as partly valid.
“G.O. No. 5 is constitutional since it provides a standard by which the AFP and the PNP (Philippine National Police) should implement PP 1017, i.e. whatever is ‘necessary and appropriate actions and measures to suppress and prevent acts of lawless violence,”’ the ruling said, “(c)onsidering that ‘acts of terrorism’ have not yet been defined and made punishable by the legislature, such portion of G.O. No. 5 is declared unconstitutional.”
The Court dismissed the claims of the petitioners that PP 1017 was “actually a declaration of Martial Law.” Arroyo, it said, merely invoked her “calling-out power.” But the Court warned that Arroyo must be careful in the exercise of such powers.
Under the calling-out power, the president may order the armed forces to suppress lawless violence, invasion and rebellion; this also involves “ordinary police action,” the ruling stated.
“Every act that goes beyond the President’s calling-out power is considered illegal,” the Court stressed.
The Court said that while Arroyo’s declaration of a “state of rebellion” during the July 2003 Oakwood mutiny “was merely an act declaring a status or condition of public moment or interest” (Section 4, Chapter 2, Book II of the Revised Administrative Code of 1987), PP 1017 “was more than that.”
“In declaring a state of national emergency, President Arroyo did not only rely on Section 18, Article VII of the Constitution, a provision calling on the AFP to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. She also relied on a provision on the State’s extraordinary power to take over privately-owned public utility and business affected with public interest. Indeed, PP 1017 calls for the exercise of an awesome power. Obviously, such Proclamation cannot be deemed harmless,” it said.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Tinga said while PP 1017 and General Order No. 5 “warrant circumspect scrutiny from those interested and tasked with preserving our civil liberties…the plain fact remains that these issuances are valid on their face, and should result in no constitutional or statutory breaches if applied according to their letter.”
To which Panganiban, in his concurring opinion, said: “Let us face it. Even Justice Tinga concedes that under PP 1017, the police — “to some minds” — “may have flirted with power.”
“Some of those who drafted PP 1017 may be testing the outer limits of presidential prerogatives and the perseverance of this Court in safeguarding the people’s constitutionally enshrined liberty. They are playing with fire, and unless prudently restrained, they may one day wittingly or unwittingly burn down the country. History will never forget, much less forgive, this Court if it allows such misadventure and refuses to strike down abuse at its inception. Worse, our people will surely condemn the misuse of legal hocus pocus to justify this trifling with constitutional sanctities,” Panganiban said.
House Minority Floor Leader Francis Escudero welcomed the ruling, saying that the Court, at the very least, recognized the administration’s abuse of its exercise of power under PP 1017.
The Alternative Law Groups also hailed the decision of the Court. “It is a clear indictment of the repressive acts of the Arroyo administration,” ALG spokesperson Marlon Manuel said.
Tribune editor in chief Ninez Cacho-Olivares said she will file administrative and criminal charges against Presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor, Justice secretary Raul Gonzales, and PNP chief Arturo Lomibao for ordering the raid on their premises.
The Palace, meanwhile, was satisfied with the Court’s decision. Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said they were glad that the Court upheld the government’s right to “protect itself when under attack.”
Read the Supreme Court’s decision on Proclamation 1017 here.