No to joint session on martial law? But Zubiri, Gordon voted yes in 2009
MANILA, Philippines – It was a heated debate on whether or not there should be a joint congressional session to debate on martial law, with two senators being called out for their apparent flip-flopping on the issue.
Minority senator Risa Hontiveros reminded senators Richard Gordon and Juan Miguel Zubiri, known allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, on their 2009 stand favoring a joint public session.
In 2009, Zubiri and Gordon were in favor of a joint public session to deliberate on then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's martial law in Maguindanao. But 8 years after, the two had a change of heart, saying there is no need to convene Congress to discuss Duterte's proclamation. (READ: No joint session on martial law? Congress 'shields' Duterte)
"If I would be allowed to refresh the memory of the good gentleman from Bukidnon. In 2009, in the discussion in our Senate on this very question, the good gentleman from Bukidnon said, I quote: 'Ito po (joint session) ay isang constitutional duty natin. Hindi po natin puwedeng hindi bigyan ng pansin itong joint session na ito dahil it will become bad precedent. Think about the future administrations.' I am sure [he] will recall his prophetic statement at the time," Hontiveros said.
(This is our constitutional duty. We cannot ignore this joint session because it will become bad precedent. Think about the future administrations.)
A transcript of Zubiri's 2009 interview also showed that he asked the Senate to think of the future in its decision, in case there would be an "abusive" president.
"Forget about this administration. It's already reaching the 6-month term and ending its 6 months of public service. But what about the next administration? Kung abusado ang presidente at meron po siyang numerical superior strength sa House of Representatives ang gagawin lang niya is… Those who want to undermine this process will...say hindi na tayo kailangang mag-meeting dahil marami namang pumapabor," Zubiri said then, which is a mirror of the present scenario.
(If the president is abusive and he has the numerical superior strength in the House of Representatives, all he would do is... Those who want to undermine this process will just say we don't need to meet because many are in favor.)
"Hindi puwede iyon (It should not be). We must make it a precedent na (that) if there's a martial law declaration the Congress, meaning the Senate and the House of Representatives, should meet and get the explanation of the president," he added in 2009.
Zubiri, in response to Hontiveros, said he committed a mistake when he voted for the revocation of martial law in 2009.
"At the time I was for revocation of the martial law declaration. I erred in my decision at the time. People make mistakes. If we run after these people with the full force of the law, maybe this would not have been this grave today," Zubiri said in defending the change in his stand.
The 2009 martial law, however, was lifted only 8 days after, even before Congress scheduled the vote on the matter.
"Now I realized the gravity of the situation. This is happening in my home as I mentioned,” he added.
Zubiri said there is an urgent need to declare martial law in Mindanao to neutralize "terrorists" and that Duterte must be given leeway to fulfill his mandate.
But Hontiveros remains unconvinced: "I understand and respect the passion of the gentleman from Bukidnon. Though his opinion may have changed, the Constitution has not."
Zubiri, in anticipation of online attacks against him, said a joint session had to be convened in 2009 because the chamber then was for the revocation of martial law. In contrast, majority of senators now are in favor of the proclamation.
"I can clearly recall then. I want to put this on record. Baka fake news na naman na (There might be fake news that) I was schooled by Senator Risa on my position in 2009. Sigurado, gano'n 'yun eh, labanan ng social media (It's sure to happen. It's like that, the battle on social media). I want to put this on record. At the time, majority of senators were for the revocation. That was the sense of the Senate to revoke, we wanted a joint session but things have changed, and I said, now it's different. Tremendously deterioriated since 2009. Nagkamali tayo, nagka-grabe-grabe, nagkaleche-leche na [ang sitwasyon sa Mindanao] (We made a mistake, it got worse in Mindanao)," Zubiri said.
Hontiveros denied "schooling" Zubiri but insisted a public official's past statements are important especially on a major issue such as martial law.
"'Yung mga salitang sinabi noon nananatiling mahalaga sa habang panahon (The words uttered before remain important in the long term) especially when we're faced with making a decision about similar situations later in the future. No one is schooling anyone," Hontiveros said.
Gordon in 2009
Hontiveros also took the time to remind Gordon of his earlier stand.
The lady senator, quoting Gordon's exact words during the joint session in 2009, said: "To my mind Mr President, if I may be so bold, we are a co-equal branch of government and the Constitution provides that we must review. And therefore, it behooves the executive that she (Arroyo) sends the highest officials involved in the declaration of martial law. Lumalabas po rito sa 'di nila pagdalo, lumalabas po rito tila binabalewala ang kahalagahan ng Kongreso, ng House at Senate, sa isang napakahalagang bagay (It appears now that with their absence, they are ignoring the importance of Congress, of the House and the Senate, on a very significant matter.)
Gordon disputed Hontiveros' interpretation, saying he did not refer to any joint session in his statement. Gordon said he uttered those words to refer to the absence of high-ranking officials in the joint session.
"'Yung sinabi ko noon, panahon na 'yun para tawagin ang mga representante ng Pangulo, 'di pinag-uusapan ang joint session noon. Dito dinadala 'nyo ang usapin sa joint session, malinaw na 'di joint session [ang topic]," Gordon said.
(What I said then was to call the representatives of the President. The topic then was not about the joint session. Here, you are trying to bring the issue to the joint session when it is not the topic.)
Gordon also said there is no point in holding a joint public session because military officials are prohibited from attending it – something that the lady senator opposed.
"Maaalala po ninyo noong 2009 may mga AFP officials na inimbita at nagsalita doon sa joint session. Issue noon ay bakit wala si dating pangulong Macapagal-Arroyo. Naaalala ko po dahil andun po ako bilang miyembro ng House of Representatives," Hontiveros said.
(You may recall that in 2009, there were AFP officials invited and who spoke during the joint session. The issue then was why former president Macapagal-Arroyo was not present. I remember it because I was there as a member of the House of Representatives.)
In the end, the Senate, voting 12-9, rejected the minority's proposal for a joint session with the House of Representatives.
Senators Loren Legarda and Joseph Victor Ejercito both earlier said they were in favor of it but changed their minds during the actual voting. – Rappler.com