This is a second tragedy in two weeks: First, a massacre of at least 57 innocent civilians. Now, a massacre of the Constitution and everything we supposed to have learned from martial law.
President Arroyo’s Proclamation 1959 is obviously unconstitutional: There is no invasion or rebellion to warrant martial law. What we have is transparent incompetence on the part of law enforcers to enforce the law, to rein in the suspected brains and masterminds of the November 23 massacre and to restore and maintain peace and order and the rule of law in Maguindanao.
Maguindanao Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao Zaldy Ampatuan are already under custody of the government. If the government prosecutors can prove there is a probable cause to keep them and to charge them, the immediate problem may already been solved. The bigger challenge — mounting an air-tight case against them and their cabal — is a task for the investigators and prosecutors.
Those who falsely think martial law is good for the cause of justice are mistaken. President Arroyo may be handing the Ampatuans legal ammunition to question the unconstitutional and incompetent manner by which they are being prosecuted. This may prove fatal to the case against Ampatuans.
What the Arroyo government seems to hope to accomplish through Proclamation 1959 is propaganda points that it is doing something. Never mind if the Constitution expressly states it is solely for invasions and rebellions, the government needs something to make it look like its doing something. Unfortunately to the nation, martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus are not simple acts like declaring holidays.
It is disappointing that the political opposition, with the exception of Senator Kiko Pangilinan, is quiet on this issue of Proclamation 1959. Yes, they may be studying legal options available to them. But by keeping silent, they are allowing the administration to dominate the discussion, lending them legitimacy and ceding the moral leadership in fighting what is clearly an unconstitutional and wrong way of addressing a massacre.
[Go to Asian Correspondent for reactions from UP Law Dean Marvic Leonen and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.]