Was President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Proclamation 1017 Ferdinand Marcos’s Proclamation 1081 33 years later?

Yes, said the opposition, lawyers’ groups, some business groups, and the media.

No, said the President, it was merely a proclamation to quell threats to the constitutional order, as posed by what appeared to be an alliance between certain segments of the military and the opposition, and armed communist groups.

According to Augusto Aligada, Jr., dean of the Faculty of Civil Law, there should be no comparing the two proclamations because in Proclamation 1017, the government never imposed total restrictions, while martial law was a total curtailment of rights.

Although the Arroyo’s proclamation was lifted last March 3, its legal and constitutional basis is still under question. Several petitions were filed by different groups, such as UP professor and political activist Randy David, 17 lawyer organizations under the umbrella of Alternative Law Groups, Inc. (ALG), the Daily Tribune led by publisher Niñez Cacho-Olivares, and former vice presidential candidate Loren Legarda.

According to ALG spokesperson Marlon Manuel, Proclamation 1017 must be struck down and declared void because Arroyo had illegally exercised martial law powers and mangled Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution.

“All democratic rights guaranteed and protected under the Constitution are still in place and could not be quelled by the Proclamation,” Manuel said in the Philippine Star last Feb. 28. “The proclamation has no effect on the Bill of Rights, specifically freedom of speech, of expression or of the press, and the right of the people to peaceful assembly and to petition the government for redress of grievances. The President cannot suppress people power with a superfluous and illegal edict such as Proclamation 1017.”

Manuel added that the proclamation may have violated the Constitution because there were no “clear threats” to national security to merit the declaration of a state of national emergency.

Arroyo, however, cited reports of elements in the political opposition conspiring with the extreme Left, represented by the National Democratic Front, Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army, and military adventurists over the past few months.

“The historical enemies (opposition and communists) of the Philippines are now in a tactical alliance and engaged in a concerted and systematic conspiracy, over a broad front, to bring down the duly-constituted government,” Arroyo said in her proclamation last Feb. 24.

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She also cited the alleged coup attempt of Scout Rangers and their commander, Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, and Marines chief Col. Ariel Querubin, who reportedly withdrew their support for the government the day before the proclamation was issued.

Under Article VII, Section 18 of the Philippine Constitution, the “President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, may call them out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion.”

For Aligada, the proclamation is constitutional because it was released to regulate, control, and eliminate excesses in rights.

“The State has every right to defend itself,” Aligada told the Varsitarian. “There’s no such thing as a perfect right. All are subject to limits.

The Supreme Court, however, is still reviewing the factual and constitutional bases of Proclamation 1017.

According to the Constitution, if ever the proclamation is proven to be unconstitutional, the Court will not allow its future implementation; Arroyo’s presidency, however, will not be imperiled.

Subsequent effects

The whole proclamation fiasco, clearly, has affected various sectors of society—the general public, the media, the church, and even the University.

According to Atty. Roberto Abad, Faculty of Civil professor, the proclamation did not have direct effects in the University except for the fear that the government might suppress freedom of expression.

“This has scared (Thomasians) because not everyone believes and agrees in the government. So far, the suppression (on campus) has yet to happen,” Abad said.

In the opinion of Rev. Fr. Rolando dela Rosa, O.P. the trouble and irony of the issue is that we know so much yet we know very little because “people base their views on the things they read or hear.”

“We’ve become a nation of spectators of declarations. We just react. It’s very hard for us to take the initiative to do something positive,” dela Rosa told the Varsitarian.

Protection or violation?

Although the proclamation was intended by Arroyo to restore peace and order, the opposition claims that the opposite has happened, since it further enraged the public after it banned all protest actions and cancelled all rally permits.

Despite the ban on rallies, several activist groups and members of the political opposition still gathered in Makati last Feb. 24 to call for GMA’s resignation and denounce the proclamation; hours after it was released.

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However, several militant leaders like David and AKBAYAN president and former Varsitarian staffer Ronald Llamas were arrested for violating the rally ban.

David said he was only leading some 5,000 protesters in a march to the EDSA Shrine to commemorate the four-day People Power uprising which ended Marcos’ dictatorship.

Llamas, who is one of the signatories in the Supreme Court petition contesting the constitutionality of PP 1017, dared Malacanang to pursue the same path that Marcos had taken to continue his stay in power.

“President GMA should have learned from history that repression is the breeding ground of People Power. By insulting the ideals of People Power I, she would suffer the same fate as Marcos,” Llamas said in a press statement on AKBAYAN’s website.

Various media groups also saw the proclamation as a curtailment of press freedom after the Philippine National Police (PNP) seized the Daily Tribune and confiscated some documents believed to be linked to the reported power grab.

Government troops were also deployed near the gates of the two television giants, GMA-7 and ABS-CBN, which further fueled media apprehension and indignation.

The government and the National Telecommunications Commission even issued a warning to all media groups to observe government media standards or face closure.

“What the government wants is for these moves (raid and deployment) to have a ‘chilling effect’ on the media. I believe that some media organizations did feel that effect and therefore have been extra careful in delivering the news,” Glenda Gloria, managing editor of Newsbreak, told the Varsitarian. “It was media repression.”

According to Arroyo’s camp, the raiding of the Daily Tribune was based on Article XII, Section 17 which states that the government, in times of national emergency, may temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately owned public utility or business affected with public interest.

In addition, PNP defended the raid by citing General Order No. 5, which gives the police and military the power to carry out “necessary and appropriate actions and measures to suppress and prevent acts of terrorism and lawless violence.”

Vice President Noli De Castro, however, defended the media groups and stressed that freedom of speech and of the press should be safeguarded and respected.

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“As Vice President and as part of media, I reiterate my stand that the government (must) respect human rights and protect civil liberties, especially freedom of the press. The role of media is that of serving as a watchdog for exposing social injustice and abuse of power,” De Castro said in the Philippine Daily Inquirer last Feb. 27.

Martial law prelude?

Although the proclamation declared a state of national emergency, several groups described it as a “creeping Martial Law” as it was reminiscent of the government’s actions then.

“She (Arroyo) has purposely avoided the term Martial Law, but the powers she uses are those of martial law,” Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel said in the PDI last March 2.

He cited that the string of warrantless arrests, ban on rallies, the Daily Tribune raid, and the issuing of guidelines for media reporting, are jeopardizing political freedom, muzzling the press, and fanning unrest.

Gloria said while the proclamation may not lead to the declaration of martial law, practically all the elements of martial law regime, especially as they affect the media, were present: prior restraint on the press, sustained and intense harassment of journalists, technical and physical surveillance of media organizations.

She, however, stressed that Proclamation 1017 is still different from the declaration of martial law since Arroyo “had not divided and ruled the media,” like Marcos did.

Presidential Spokesperson Ignacio Bunye, however, said during a press conference that the proclamation is a “crackdown on anarchy and not freedoms.” He added that the government is prioritizing the protection of the Constitution and the maintenance of law and order.

Unanswered questions

Last March 3, Arroyo lifted the week-long proclamation after her advisers assured her that the coup threat had eased.

“Today, a week later, I’m happy to report that the cabal is broken and it is time to get back to the real business of governing,” Arroyo said. “I am confident that order has been restored.”

But the nation remains divided.

“We’ll never advance economically and politically unless we (Filipinos) move and act as one. Nothing would come out if we fight each other,” Aligada said.

Meanwhile, the Thomasian community and the nation eagerly anticipate the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of Proclamation 1017.

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