Lone dissenting Filipino judge – ‘Why I voted against martial law’

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Philippines Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen ... the reasons for his dissenting legal opinion as shared on twitter. Image: Philippine Star

By JV Arcena of InterAksyon in Manila

Saying the Philippines needs to wage the long, hard fight against terrorism but cannot do it at the expense of rejecting all that it believes in, the lone dissenter in the Supreme Court ruling upholding the legality of martial law in Mindanao turned to Twitter this week to explain his vote.

The Philippines Supreme Court … 11-3-1 majority upheld martial law. Image: Philippine Star

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said: “We all need to fight the long war against terrorism. This needs patience, community participation, precision and a sophisticated strategy that respects rights while at the same time using force decisively at the right time and in the right way.

“The terrorist wins when we suspend all that we believe in. The terrorist wins when we replace social justice with disempowering authoritarianism.”

The Maute Group and other extremists sowing mayhem in Marawi City should be known for what they, terrorists and not rebels with a definable cause, and therefore should be dealt with decisively by state forces – for which, he said, the military and security agencies were fully mandated and equipped to deal with. Martial law was not needed for this, Leonen said.

On Tuesday (July 4), the Supreme Court, voting 11-3-1, upheld the constitutionality of Proclamation 216 imposing martial law in Mindanao for 60 days, to allow the government to quell the Maute Group-led terrorists that laid siege to Marawi City.

Eleven justices upheld the proclamation; three upheld it, but wanted it limited only to Marawi; while one justice – Leonen – dissented.

Part of the “dissent” twitter feed. Image: PMC

-Partners-

Parts of Associate Justice Marvic Leonen’s dissenting opinion, as tweeted:
I honour the sacrifices of many by calling our enemy with their proper names: terrorists capable of committing atrocious acts. They are not rebels desirous of a viable political alternative that can be accepted by any of our societies. With their plans disrupted and with their bankrupt fanaticism for a nihilist apocalypse, they are reduced to a fighting force violently trying to escape. They are not a rebel group that can hope to achieve and hold any ground.

History teaches us that to rely on the iron fist of an authoritarian backed up by the police and the military to solve our deep-seated social problems that spawn terrorism is fallacy. The ghost of Marcos’ Martial Law lives within the words of our Constitution and rightly so. That ghost must be exorcised with passion by this Court whenever its resemblance reappears.

Never again should this court allow itself to step aside when the powerful invoke vague powers that feed on fear but could potentially undermine our most cherished rights. Never again should we fall victim to a false narrative that a vague declaration of martial law is good for us no matter the circumstances. We should have the courage to never again clothe authoritarianism in any disguise with the mantle of constitutionality.

We all need to fight the long war against terrorism. This needs patience, community participation, precision and a sophisticated strategy that respects rights while at the same time using force decisively at the right time and in the right way. The terrorist wins when we suspend all that we believe in. The terrorist wins when we replace social justice with disempowering authoritarianism.

We should temper our fears with reason. Otherwise, we succumb to the effects of the weapons of terror. We should dissent – even resist – when offered the farce that Martial Law is necessary because it is only an exclamation point.

For these reasons, I dissent.

Legal powers need
In my view, respondents have failed to show what additional legal powers will be added by Martial Law except perhaps to potentially put on the shoulders of the armed forces of the Philippines the responsibilities and burdens of the entire civilian government over the entire Mindanao region. I know that the Armed Forces of the Philippines to be more professional than this narrative.

With due respect to my colleagues, I cannot join them in their acceptance of the President’s categorisation of the events in Marawi as equivalent to the rebellion mentioned in Article VII Section 18. In conscience, I do not see the situation as providing for the kind of necessity for the imposition of Martial Law in Marawi as well as throughout the entire Philippines.

Rather, I read the situation as amounting to acts of terrorism which should be addressed in a decisive but more precise manner. The military can quell the violence. It can disrupt many of the planned atrocities that may yet to come. It can do so as it had on many occasions in the past with the current legal arsenal that it has.

The words we choose can have violent consequences.

Characterising or labeling events on the basis of the categories that law provides is quintessentially a legal act. It is not a power granted to the President alone even as commander-in-chief. It is the power wielded by this country’s judiciary with finality. Through that power entrusted to us by the sovereign Filipino people, we temper the potentials of force. We ensure the protection of rights which embed our societies values; the same values which the terrorist may want us to deny or destroy.

I acknowledge the hostilities in Marawi and the valiant efforts of our troops to quell the violence. I acknowledge the huge pain and sacrifice suffered by my many of our citizens as they bear the brunt of violent confrontations. I share the suffering of those who, in moments of callous reaction by members of a majority of our society influenced by a postcolonial culture of intolerance, have to live through the stigma of undeserved stereotypes. To be Muslim has never meant complicity with the misguided acts of fanatics who appropriate religion for irrational selfish ends.

We should dissent – even resist – when offered the farce that Martial Law is necessary because it is only an exclamation point.

#dissent

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