Last Friday, February 24, 2006, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Presidential Proclamation 1017, declaring a state of national emergency. Immediately after, she issued General Order No. 5, directing the chiefs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to immediately carry out necessary and appropriate actions and measures to suppress and prevent acts of terrorism and lawless violence and in certain instances the outright denial of civil liberties guaranteed and protected under the Bill of Rights, including the freedoms of speech, expression, of the press, and public assembly. Ostensibly on the strength of Proclamation 1017 and General Order 5, a general ban on rallies has been imposed, the PNP has raided one newspaper and threatens to take over other media outfits which fail to conform to government standards, and numerous persons, including several members of Congress, have been arrested without warrant.
We, the faculty of the University of the Philippines College of Law, speaking with one voice, condemn in the strongest possible terms this brazen assault on essential freedoms. We firmly and unequivocally take the position that Proclamation 1017 and General Order 5, and the manner in which they are being applied by the Executive, constitute an unconstitutional infringement on civil liberties.
We refuse to accept the half-hearted excuse, put forth by some officials in the Arroyo administration, that the two issuances were not intended to violate the Bill of Rights. The simple and undeniable fact is that Proclamation 1017 and General Order 5 have been utilized by the PNP and other executive organs to mount a vigorous and unrelenting campaign against perceived critics of the administration, in full and flagrant disregard of the protections enshrined in the Bill of Rights as well as the legal rules of procedure. Equally undeniable is that the President has sanctioned, or at the very least tacitly approved, these actions undertaken by her
subordinates, all of whom are fully within her control.
The indisputable truth is that the violations of the Bill of Rights done pursuant to Proclamation 1017 and General Order 5 are acts of the President.
It must be emphasized that nothing in the Constitution can authorize the suspension of the Bill of Rights. Even under a declared state of martial law, which the Arroyo administration repeatedly insists this is not, the Bill of Rights remains fully operative. Thus, the suppression of free speech, the muzzling of the free press, and the prohibition on public assembly sanctioned by the two issuances cannot be construed as anything other than clearly and unequivocally unconstitutional.
Our civil liberties, particularly the freedom of speech and public assembly are indispensable to our democracy. We cannot allow them to be arbitrarily suppressed. We therefore call for the immediate and unconditional rescission of Proclamation 1017 and General Order 5.