• Opposition suffers twin setbacks at high court

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    Opposition lawmakers and critics of the Duterte administration lost two important cases at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, one on the question of the minority leadership at the House of Representatives and the other on whether Congress should immediately convene to review the President’s declaration of martial law.

    In its regular Tuesday en banc session, the Supreme Court justices unanimously voted to junk the petition filed by the group of Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat Jr., who last year assailed the composition of the minority bloc and the minority leadership of Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez

    The magistrates said Baguilat and his co-petitioners “were not entitled to the reliefs sought,” although they refused to interfere with the internal rules of the House out of respect for the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers.

    The court said the dismissal of the petition was “without prejudice to any other controversy involving the internal rules of the House of Representatives presented in a proper case seeking judicial review.”

    Baguilat lost the minority leadership to Suarez, who was elected in a caucus of House members who did not vote for Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez in July last year.

    Baguilat insisted that after he was declared the runner-up in the speakership
    race, he had the right to be declared minority floor leader, not Suarez.

    Petitioners claimed Suarez was elected on July 27, 2016 by “pseudo minority members” directed by Alvarez’s “supermajority” to beef up Suarez’s group by abstaining in the election for speaker and later convening in caucus to elect Suarez to the minority leader post.

    Joint session not needed

    The Supreme Court en banc also voted to dismiss petitions to force Congress to convene in joint session following the President’s May 23 declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

    It said Congress is required to convene in joint session only to revoke or extend military rule.

    Thirteen justices, led by Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro, voted to dismiss the petition, saying the court could not force Congress to convene in joint session.

    At the same time, there was no grave abuse of discretion by the legislative department when it did not convene jointly at the time martial law was declared.

    “Congress did not gravely abuse its discretion in not convening jointly upon the President’s issuance of Proclamation 216 as Article VII, Section 18 [of the Constitution]imposes no such duty on Congress to convene, such duty (to convene and vote) being limited to instances where Congress intends to revoke or extend any proclamation of martial law or suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus,” the ruling stated.
    Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa voted to dismiss the case for being moot and academic, since Congress in joint session already extended the declaration of martial law until December 31, 2017.

    The petition was filed by Catholic Church officials led by Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, as well as former senator Wigberto “Bobby” Tañada and student groups.

    Another group of petitioners were led by former senator Rene Saguisag, former Commission on Elections chairman Christian Monsod, former Commission on Human Rights chairwoman Loretta Ann Rosales, former Philippine Health Insurance Corporation president Alexander Padilla, lawyer Rene Gorospe and Senator Leila de Lima.

    Both petitions said a joint session of Congress to review a declaration of martial law by the President was mandatory under the 1987 Constitution.

    Failure to convene in joint session deprives lawmakers the chance to scrutinize the declaration, petitioners argued.

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