THREE weeks after the controversial Presidential Proclamation No. 1017 was lifted, President Macapagal-Arroyo continues to be under fire for having issued Proclamation which the opposition as well as the extreme left and right have branded as oppressive and tyrannical.

Through the proclamation, the President declared a national state of emergency and called out the armed forces to suppress rebellion and lawlessness and to maintain peace and order in the country pursuant to the Constitution.

Without delving too much on the legality of the Proclamation 1017 since the Supreme Court will decide on the matter in the coming days, its rationale and effects are worth pondering.

Given the penchant of rightist groups to launch coup d’ etats to try to diminish or seize government power and of the communists forever fomenting what it calls “revolutionary situation,” President Macapagal-Arroyo had to do something to frustrate any power grab when the coup threats were inching toward reality.

The Philippines has barely recovered from the effects of Marcos’ 20-year dictatorship and the seven coup attempts against Marcos’ successor, President Aquino. The country cannot afford another radical change in government when the situation today is not even a shadow of conditions present 20 years ago.

During the time of Marcos’ iron-fisted rule, all persons who spoke ill of Martial Law and the Marcos government were sent to prison. Today, prominent opposition figures, like former President Aquino, Senate President Franklin Drilon, Congressman Francis Escudero, Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Nene Pimentel, among others, freely roam and are still able to call for the President’s resignation and lambast the government.

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Any economic gain the Philippines makes is lost every time there are attempts to unseat the President. Filipinos have to learn to become more nationalistic, not practice misguided nationalism, and to shoot themselves in the foot. Having a legitimate opposition is a sign that democracy in the country is healthy.

Indeed, the presidential proclamation was able to accomplish its goals as President Macapagal-Arroyo is still in Malacañang. However, much can be said with regard to its faulty enforcement.

With or without a 1017, law enforcers, particularly the police, are not allowed to make warrantless arrests of persons who are not in the act of committing a crime, have just committed a crime, or escapees. Illegal arrests and other violations of civil liberties, particularly the rights to life and liberty, should never be countenanced.

Although President Macapagal-Arroyo’s Proclamation 1017 and President Marcos’ Proclamation 1081 (the Martial Law declaration) are different species, the government must make sure that Filipinos would always have their constitutionally guaranteed rights protected. Filipinos, as a result of the Martial rule during the Marcos era, have become apprehensive of the armed forces and the police, equating them with human rights abuses.

It is this apprehension, above others, that the government must try to change by making sure that the policemen and the soldiers are brought to justice when they violate the law that they swore to uphold.

The government should also stop harassing or threatening the press that smacks of imposing prior restraint on publications that it accuses of publishing seditious articles. Instead, the government should indict reporters and columnists for sedition and other crimes if indeed it has the goods. Short of that, the government should shut its trap and let the press do its work according to its rights and privileges which are constitutionally enshrined.

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The government must also realize that regulation is not synonymous to absolute prohibition. It is true that the freedom of speech and the freedom to assemble are subject to regulation. The right, however, is violated when the government stops everyone from trooping to the streets to voice out their concerns.

Regardless of the existence of a state of national emergency, civil liberties, which the Constitution protects, must always be upheld and respected by law enforcers. Suppression of rebellion and lawlessness is not a license to violate human rights otherwise the rule of law will never prevail.

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