Friday, April 16, 2010

No Need for Martial Law in Basilan

A call by Basilan Catholic Bishop Martin Jumoad for the imposition of martial law in the aftermath of the deadly bombing which killed 15 persons should not even be considered since its declaration is not necessary in going after the culprits.

In the case of the Maguindanao massacre where members of the Ampatuan clan were apprehended, the declaration was made in order to facilitate the arrest of the suspects even without warrants. But eventually, it proved to be a faulty decision since the court dismissed the rebellion case for lack of evidence. It turned out that there was no basis for the declaration since there was no rebellion as defined under the law.

With regard to the Basilan bombing, the suspected culprit is the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a known terrorist organization which has been involved in terror activities like kidnappings and bombings. The Human Security Act, which provides for wiretap surveillance and warrantless arrests, makes it unnecessary to impose military rule because the declaration of martial law is only justified if rebellion or invasion is present.

In the case of the Basilan bombing, there is no invasion and the acts of the ASG should not be considered rebellion. It would negate their tag as a terrorist organization and considering them as rebels would only make them qualify for amnesty some time in the future. We should not fall into the temptation of copying the government’s response to the Maguindanao massacre declaring martial law just so that the suspects will be apprehended. As we have seen with the Ampatuans, their rebellion case was dismissed because it was found by the court that there was no rebellion.

Coming so close to the elections, declaration of martial for convenience will only cause unwanted anxiety among the people who will surely suspect that martial law will be used for the administration’s political advantage. It is disturbing to hear Secretary Norberto Gonzales say that they are studying the martial law option. MalacaƱang’s statement that it is not considering martial law is also not reassuring, since days before the declaration of martial law in Maguinanao was also preceded by statements from high government officials that military rule was not necessary.

Rather than declare martial law, the Human Security Act, also known as the Anti-Terror Law, should be used against the perpetrators of the bombing. It is a law that is specifically meant to address acts of terrorism by terrorists and terrorist organizations and it is a law that is already in force.

The Human Security Act will also be applicable to the situation if the government’s suspicion is true that the ASG is being used as a private armed group by politicians. Those who employ the ASG may be considered as an accomplice or accessory to terrorism and be charged accordingly using the HSA. The law even has provisions for probing the bank accounts of suspects so if there are politicians suspected to be involved in the actions of the ASG, their finances can even be looked into.

While I share the desire of the people of Basilan to bring the bombers to justice, I do not agree to the declaration of martial law as the solution. It will only further tarnish the image of the country in the international community; it is the inappropriate measure and will result in the failure to convict the suspects; it is untimely in the face of the coming elections and it is only a tool of last resort.

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