MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Supreme Court justices had a 6-hour private session with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Eduardo Año on Thursday, June 15, the final day of oral arguments on petitions seeking to nullify President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
Solicitor General Jose Calida told reporters in an interview Thursday afternoon that aside from himself, only petitioner Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman was allowed to join the closed-door meeting.
Calida said the justices were able to ask questions to Lorenzana and Año – administrator and implementer of martial law in Mindanao, respectively.
The Solicitor General added that the two were able to present intelligence information related to the Marawi crisis during the meeting.
“There was PowerPoint presentation, materials were given, and they answered questions from the justices. It’s different from the annexes, these are secret documents,” said Calida, adding that some of the information are “updated.”
He said “the government is confident,” in its case.
Calida had earlier asked the High Court that Lorenzana and Año be allowed to face the justices in an executive session, citing security concerns.
Earlier in the day, SC Spokesman Theodore Te described the meeting as an “internal discussion” between the top security officials and SC justices. It was still ongoing past 5 pm.
Asked whether it was considered an executive session, Te said late Thursday afternoon: “There’s no such thing as an executive session as far as the Court is concerned. There is however a rule that allows the Court to exclude the public when, in the consideration of the Court, the information that will be disclosed may be prejudicial and detrimental.”
On Thursday morning, Calida insisted that an executive session was needed for the country’s top security officials because they would discuss “top secret” matters.
“There are others we cannot divulge to the public, the secrets of the operations so it must be an executive session,” Calida said.
Lagman said it was the SC’s call to include only him, among the petitioners, in the meeting.
“I hope it was made in public, both the presentation and question and answer. But I would defer to the wise judgment of the honorable court,” Lagman said.
Former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares, who represents the leftist group of petitioners, was not satisfied with the setup.
“Kung malaman namin na hindi naman pala pang executive session ‘yung information, that is, para sa akin unfair sa petitioners lalo na kung katulad namin na-exclude sa meeting na ‘yun,” Colmenares said.
(If we find out that the information was not fit for an executive session, that for me is unfair to the petitioners especially to us who were excluded from the meeting.)
Petitioners had opposed the executive session, insisting that Lorenzana and Año should be part of the public proceedings.
“I think we should be given the opportunity to refute the basis for calling for accepted sessions. Because that is an exception. Matters of state should be publicly protected so that the people will have to know,” Lagman said earlier.
Lawyer Marlon Manuel, representing the Marawi group of petitioners, said he considered it a positive step that the SC summoned Lorenzana and Año, given that Calida’s position was to put the burden of proof on them and not the government.
The parties were directed to submit their memoranda to the High Court on June 19. – Rappler.com