POSTSCRIPT / December 6, 2009 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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SC must step in where Congress refuses to act

EXPLOSIVE BREW: The lawlessness in Maguindanao that could spill over its borders springs from the explosive brew of political dynasties and warlordism that has been tolerated despite the Constitution’s decade-old command to control it.

President Gloria Arroyo’s declaring martial law in Maguindanao yesterday underscores the gravity of the problem. But with the government and the people resolving to save the bleeding nation, the crisis can still be contained.

Dynasties and warlords hold sway in the Congress. It is not surprising then that the legislature has ignored the constitutional mandate for it to pass laws to clip political dynasties spawning electoral inequity and warlordism.

With the Congress refusing to do its duty, and with the Maguindanao massacre of Nov. 23 providing the casus belli, the stage is now set for a proper case to be filed and for the Supreme Court to take the high ground to exercise judicial legislation.

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CHARTER SAYS: These are the pertinent provisions of the 1987 Constitution that the succession of administrations has neglected or refused to obey:

a. Article II (State Policies), Section 26: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynastiesas may be defined by law.

b. Article XVIII (Transitory Provisions), Section 24: “Private armies and other armed groups not recognized by duly constituted authority shall be dismantled. All paramilitary forces including Civilian Home Defense Forces not consistent with the citizen armed force established in this Constitution, shall be dissolved or, where appropriate, converted into the regular force. (emphasis supplied)

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POLITICAL WILL: No new law is needed to carry out Section 24 of Article XVIII. For “private armies and other armed groups” to be dismantled, all that is needed is for “duly constituted authority” to withdraw recognition — if it has recognized them.

A sweeping written declaration from the President, Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief, will wipe out any claim that certain private armies or armed groups are operating with the authority or tolerance of the government.

The same document withdrawing recognition can spell out the criteria or guidelines for determining what is considered a “private army” or “armed group.”

The dissolution of paramilitary forces covered in the second sentence in Section 24 is just as easy to carry out. All that is needed is political will and a piece of paper.

If any complaint is filed questioning the withdrawal or withholding of recognition or its application to a group of armed men, the Supreme Court can take it up from there as the final arbiter.

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DYNASTY ISSUE: In the problem of “political dynasties,” the usual defense of extended political families with several members holding elective government posts is that the term “dynasty” has not been defined by law.

One response to that is the filing of a suit for the disqualification or removal from office of members of a perceived political dynasty (e.g. the Ampatuans in Maguindanao).

The Supreme Court, if its venerable members want, can proceed to hear the case and rule on it. In the process, it can lay down the criteria under which officials who are relatives are to be considered as belonging to a political dynasty.

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JUDICIAL LEGISLATION: Section 26 says that “The State shall … prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

But note that laws are not creations of only the Congress. In a situation where the Congress deliberately refuses to pass a law ordered by the Constitution, the Supreme Court can proceed to lay down the implementing law in the course of rendering a decision on a pertinent case.

After all, the law is what the Supreme Court says it is. When the high court hands down a final ruling that has popular acceptance and carries out a clear mandate of the Constitution, who can contest it?

This nation should not be held hostage by a Congress dominated by dynasties and warlords. We look up to the Supreme Court to break this legal and political stranglehold.

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THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!: Focus on Ampatuan country to see the breadth and depth of the dynasty and warlordism issues more clearly.

The elder Andal Ampatuan Sr. sits as governor of Maguindanao, with his brother-in-law Akmed Ampatun Jr. as vice governor. His son Zaldy Ampatuan is governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) of which Maguindanao is part.

The suspected leader of the Maguindanao massacre, Andal Ampatuan Jr., is mayor of Datu Unsay town, where a brother is his vice mayor. Anwar Ampatuan is mayor of nearby Sharif Aguak town, with still another brother as his vice mayor. A Cahoner Ampatuan is a Sangguniang Bayan member of Sharif Aguak.

In Datu Saudi Ampatuan town, an Ampatuan is also mayor, while a nephew is vice mayor. In Mamasapano town, another Ampatuan is also mayor, with a cousin as vice mayor.

In the town named after the clan (Ampatuan), where the satanic massacre of at least 57 persons took place, grand nephews of Ampatuan Sr. are mayor and vice mayor.

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FILE TEST CASE: Will such frightening omnipresence of one clan be allowed just because the Congress has refused to define what a “political dynasty” is?

A group of patriotic lawyers should come forward to ask for the Ampatuans’ removal from office for being members of a political dynasty barred by the Constitution.

Let the Supreme Court exercise judicial legislation and define the term “dynasty.”

This might sound bizarre to some lawyers, but we plain folk are desperately looking for extraordinary solutions to extraordinary problems.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 6, 2009)

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