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Calida: Pointless to question martial law by using news reports

MANILA, Philippines – In his consolidated comment filed before the Supreme Court (SC) on Independence Day, Monday, June 12, Solicitor General Jose Calida maintained that incidents earlier cited by President Rodrigo Duterte are sufficient grounds to declare martial law in Mindanao. These incidents, however, were already shown to be inconsistent.

Petitioners against martial law used the conflicting claims as basis for their request to the High Court to nullify the declaration, but Calida said these are not valid because the petitioners only based their arguments on news reports.

Since the declaration of martial law in Mindanao on May 23, media outlets have fact-checked the incidents and found some of them to be inconsistent.

"News reports amount to 'hearsay evidence, twice removed' and are therefore not only inadmissible, but are without any probative value at all whether objected to or not," Calida said.

"They are only admissible as evidence of the existence of their publication, and the tenor of the news therein stated. They can never be used to prove the veracity of its contents, much less dispute a legal presumption bestowed on governmental acts," he added.

Burned or not?

Citing news reports, minority lawmakers stated in their petition that the "alleged facts" in Duterte's Proclamation No. 216 are "mostly inaccurate, simulated, false, and/or hyperbolic."

But Calida repeated these "alleged facts" as used by the President in the martial law report he submitted to Congress on May 25, or within 48 hours of declaring martial law in Mindanao.

Calida said a branch of the Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank) in Marawi City was burned, but Duterte's report actually said it was ransacked. Landbank, however, released a statement saying its branch was neither burned nor ransacked.

The Solicitor General also said the Senator Ninoy Aquino College Foundation was burned by terrorists, but the minority lawmakers' petition, citing a report by the Philippine Star, said the school was intact as of May 24. Duterte's report states the school was burned on the evening of May 23.

Referring to the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, Calida told the SC: "The ISIS-inspired local rebel groups occupied the PhilHealth Office and Salam Hospital in Barangay Lilod. They burned three (3) buildings: the Marawi City Jail, Landbank Moncado Branch, and Senator Ninoy Aquino College Foundation."

Amai Pakpak Medical Center

In his report to Congress, Duterte said the terrorists occupied the Amai Pakpak Medical Center (APMC) and "held hostage employees of the hospital and took over the PhilHealth office located thereat."

APMC Director Amer Saber and Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial already denied the hospital was overrun by terrorists. Saber said Maute fighters asked permission from hospital officials to bring in their injured member.

In his consolidated comment, Calida cited the APMC again.

"Consistent with their planned rebellion, the rebels occupied establishments in the city, like the Amai Pakpak Medical Center," the Solicitor General wrote in the part of the comment where he was justifying his argument that the siege was a precursor to local terror groups establishing an Islamic State (ISIS) province in Mindanao.

For petitioner Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, the principle of "falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus" should apply. The phrase means "making a falsehood in a material matter makes the entire statement or declaration a falsity."

Citing the conflicting APMC claim and other inconsistent statements, Lagman said these affect Duterte's entire proclamation.

Calida does not agree, and said the principle is not "of universal application."

"It is neither absolute nor mandatory and binding upon the court, which may accept or reject portions of the witness' testimony based on its inherent credibility or on the corroborative evidence in the case. In other words, the principle is not controlling in our jurisdiction," said the Solicitor General.

Burden of proof

In the petition filed by residents of Marawi City also seeking to nullify the declaration, they want the High Court to "compel the respondents to present proof on the factual basis."

"It is the petitioners who should bear the heavy burden of establishing that the President acted with grave abuse of discretion in issuing Proclamation No. 216," the Solicitor General said.

Calida asked the High Court to dismiss the petitions questioning martial law, even as 3 straight days of oral arguments are set to begin on Tuesday, June 13.

He insisted that the siege in Marawi City is a case of rebellion and therefore sufficient constitutional basis to declare martial law.

OSG Consolidated Comment on Martial Law by Lian Nami Buan on Scribd


Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.