MANILA, August 11, 2003 (STAR) By Mayen Jaymalin  - The country will remain under a state of rebellion until all civilians involved in the July 27 coup attempt have been unmasked and charged before the courts, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said yesterday.

Bunye stressed the government could not afford to be complacent until all "residual threats" have been neutralized and eliminated.

He also pointed out that the government cannot afford to drop its guard particularly in the face of renewed threats of terrorism following the bombing in Jakarta last week.

"While the elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are now facing the residual threat of rebellion, I think slowly we will refocus efforts against terrorism," Bunye said.

"The threat of terrorism really exists as shown in the Jakarta bombing, and we cannot be complacent and think the Philippines would never be a target of terrorism," he added.

Bunye said law enforcement authorities are discussing the possibility of raising the level of alertness in defending "soft targets" such as shopping malls, airports and other crowded areas.

He called on the public to stay vigilant and cooperate with authorities in implementing security measures. "Please cooperate because (authorities) are implementing strict security for our own welfare," he said.

President Arroyo declared the state of rebellion at the height of the mutiny staged by some 300 soldiers in Makati City last July 27.

Various sectors joined some legislators and the business community in calling for Mrs. Arroyo to lift the state of rebellion on fears of its adverse effects on the economy and curtailment of civil rights.

Even after declaring the coup against her administration already over, Mrs. Arroyo said the state of rebellion will stay as a "mantle of protection" of the people as they go on with their normal activities.

The first time Mrs. Arroyo declared a state of rebellion was when supporters of deposed President Joseph Estrada stormed Malacañang on May 1, 2001.

Opposition Sen. Edgardo Angara said the country is placed in a "legal fiction" with the declaration of a state of rebellion.

"There is no such thing as state of rebellion in our Constitution. This is the second time in two years that President Arroyo has declared a state of rebellion. We want to determine its constitutional and legal basis," he said.

Angara announced that the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, which he chairs, will conduct hearings to determine its legal basis and the extent of powers given to the Chief Executive.

The Senate inquiry was initiated by Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, who said the declaration of state of rebellion has created a "cloud of uncertainty and uneasiness."

"Almost all Filipinos are ignorant as to what the President’s emergency powers are under the state of rebellion. These must be clearly spelled out," Biazon said.

Angara noted that several days after the Makati mutiny, police and military made several arrests and seized several properties believed to have been used in the rebellion.

"What the state of rebellion has achieved so far have been to sow fear among our people, breed misinterpretations and even abuse among our law enforcers," the senator said.

Angara said the state of rebellion could well be undeclared martial law. "Why not call it martial law, if it is so. With such clear declaration, the safeguards for civil liberties remain intact and Congress could assess its basis," he said.

On the issue of Malacañang reneging on its agreement with the mutineers, an administration lawmaker said the government has no choice but to file charges before the civilian courts.

According to Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez, any agreement, however well meaning, could be void if it violates the law.

None of the negotiators, Gonzalez said, much less the mutinous officers were aware of Republic Act 7055, which amended the National Defense Act of 1935 that includes the Articles of War.

"I’m sure when none of the negotiators were aware of RA 7055, but that does not mean the officers, the suspects, cannot be tried in civil courts because of an alleged agreement, when it is void," Gonzalez said.

"This is a question of jurisdiction, they can be charged with coup d’etat and rebellion in civil courts and charged with other offenses before a court martial," he said.

Over 300 officers and servicemen have been charged with coup d’etat before the courts aside from facing court martial over the mutiny.

The mutineers surrendered after a supposed agreement that they would only face a court martial under the Articles of War. - With Paolo Romero

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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