Secrecy in the SC Martial Law Hearings Was Not What the Constitution Intended

Elpidio V. Peria
18 June 2017

TV and other media crew excluded from the executive session in the Supreme Court last June 15, 2017  (PHOTO : EV Peria)

The 3rd day of oral arguments for the Mindanao martial law petitions before the Philippine Supreme Court was mainly done in executive session thus the media and the public was denied the opportunity to look at the supposed disclosure of matters relating to national security that was presented that day by DND Secretary Lorenzana to the Justices of the Supreme Court.

To assuage the concerns that may result from excluding the public from these deliberations, the Supreme Court allowed nonetheless petitioner Congressman Edcel Lagman and Solicitor-General Calida in the executive session.

This is a problem since the public was not able to get a clear glimpse of the sufficiency of the factual basis for this declaration of martial law and understand fully what is happening in the country unless the Justices may mention it in their ponencia later as justification for whatever they may rule on this issue. But if the Justices will mention those secret matters in their decision to justify their ruling, then what was the point for the secrecy anyway, and whatever happened to transparency in governance if, on grounds of national security, certain facts and information relating to an important matter of public interest such as martial law may be excluded from the public?

If we follow the logic for such exclusion of the public in the 3rd day of oral arguments on the martial law case, then the Justices cannot disclose such sensitive information when they write their decision on this case, and if that is so, then how may the public fully understand the ruling which the Supreme Court will have to do by July 5? More importantly, the public may not forever get a glimpse of what may have actually swayed the President into declaring martial law and get a full sense of the gravity of the situation as the President has seen it. To the critics of the President, this may confirm their suspicion that the President acted rashly, but to the devotees of the President, this will only confirm that the President acted decisively. Both these groups of Filipinos were short-changed by the Supreme Court when they were excluded when Sec. Lorenzana made his presentation.

Let us remember that the Marcos Martial Law declaration was built on exaggerations and false pretenses and outright lies, including that ambush by then DND Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile who admitted it was faked, so that it will foster a sense of panic nationwide that served as one of the justifications for such declaration.

The framers of the 1987 Constitution was aware of that fact thus, they empowered any citizen, to petition the Supreme Court to inquire upon the sufficiency of the factual basis for the declaration of martial law. With that executive session held last Thursday, 15 June, this constitutional mandate was not followed.

This act of excluding the public in that important phase of the hearing may result in the public not really accepting the final result, whether it may be for upholding or revoking the declaration of martial law. If this happens, then it is quite unfortunate, there was a chance for the Supreme Court to really put to life this 1987 Constitutional provision on martial law, it may have bungled it somewhat.


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