DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/15 August) – Human rights advocates are calling for the immediate release of human rights activist Temogen “Cocoy” Tulawie and the disbandment of Sulu’s Civilian Emergency Force (CEF) following his receipt this week of a copy of the Supreme Court decision declaring as unconstitutional Governor Abdusakur Tan’s March 2009 declaration of a state of emergency in Sulu and the establishment of the CEF.
Tulawie is presently detained at the Maa jail here since mid-January, awaiting trial for his alleged involvement in the May 2009 bombing in Patikul, Sulu that injured 12 persons, including Governor Tan, an allegation he denied. A month before the bombing, Tulawie and other colleagues questioned in a petition before the Supreme Court Tan’s declaration of a state of emergency and his calling on the police, military and the CEF which he described as “private army” and which he blamed for the series of warrantless arrests of civilians suspected to be Abu Sayyaf members.
The Supreme Court granted the April 16, 2009 petition for certiorari and prohibition filed by Tulawie, Jamar M. Kulayan, Hadji Mohammad Yusop Ismi, Ahajan Awadi, and SPO1 Sattal H. Jadjuli, residents of Patikul, Sulu, which claimed that Tan’s declaration of a state of emergency was issued “with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, as it threatened fundamental freedoms guaranteed under Article III of the 1987 Constitution.”
In a decision dated July 3, released on July 18 but which Tulawie’s lawyers received over the weekend, the Supreme Court said Tan “exceeded his authority” when he issued Proclamation No. 1 declaring a state of emergency in Sulu and calling out the military and police and the CEF, a group of armed male civilians coming from different municipalities.
The 25-page decision penned by Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno said the “calling out” powers contemplated under the Constitution is “exclusive to the President” and declared the Proclamation and its implementing guidelines “null and void for having been issued in grave abuse of discretion, amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction”
Tan issued Proclamation No. 1 on March 31, 2009, citing the January 15 kidnapping of three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross – a Swiss national, an Italian and a Filipino – as a ground for the declaration of a state of emergency.
It described the kidnapping as a “terrorist act” and invoked Section 465 of the Local Government Code of 1991 (R.A. 7160), which bestows on the Provincial Governor the power to carry out emergency measures during man-made and natural disasters and calamities, and to call upon the appropriate national law enforcement agencies to suppress disorder and lawless violence.
In the same proclamation, Tan called on the Philippine National Police, with the assistance of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the CEF to set up checkpoints and chokepoints, conduct general search and seizures including arrests, and other actions necessary to ensure public safety.
The Supreme Court cited deliberations of the 1986 Constitutional Commission on the issue of dismantling private armies and paramilitary groups and noted that the Constitution “does not authorize the organization of private armed groups similar to the CEF convened by the respondent Governor.”
The Court ordered Tan and the other respondents to “desist from further proceedings in implementing Proclamation No. 1, Series of 2009, and its Implementing Guidelines.”
Tan told MindaNews in a text message Tuesday that the decision was “moot and academic… It (CEF) was never formally organized and implemented. Rule of law and respect for human rights have always been the name of the game.”
The Supreme Court decision, however, noted that the organization of the CEF was embodied in a “Memorandum of Understanding” entered into by the Provincial Government of Sulu, represented by Tan, the Armed Forces of the Philippines represented by Brig. Gen. Juancho Saban and the Philippine National Police represented by Supt. Bienvenido Latag, the Police Deputy Director for Operations of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The Court said the Memorandum, which was labeled ‘secret’ on its all pages, also outlined the responsibilities of each of the party signatories
Tan had, through his lawyers, questioned the petitioners’ move in raising the issue before the Supreme Court, citing the hierarchy of the courts. But the Supreme Court said the rule is “not without exception” and that the petition raised “constitutional questions of transcendental importance to the public.”
In a statement, the Free Cocoy Tulawie Movement, a coalition of 22 organizations, said the Supreme Court ruling is “clearly a vindication for our fellow human rights defender, Cocoy Tulawie, who is now detained at the Maa Davao City Jail for charges of allegedly masterminding an assassination plot against Governor Sakur Tan.” The group said Tulawie should be released immediately.
“Indeed, (these) trumped up charges are false, malicious and meant to silence Cocoy Tulawie and cripple his work as a human rights defender. Human rights workers like him are supposed to be protected instead of being ‘punished’ and ‘criminalized’ for daring to challenge the unbridled use of power by the Governor of Sulu,” it said.
Tulawie is a member of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society and Bawbug where he documented cases of human rights violations in the province of Sulu. He is also a member of the Council of Elders of the Concerned Citizens of Sulu.
The Supreme Court had earlier granted Tulawie’s petition to transfer the hearings from Sulu to Davao City but Tan petitioned the Supreme Court to move the hearings to Manila instead.
Tulawie’s petition for bail will be heard by the Regional Trial Court here on September 19 to 21. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)