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'Words we choose can have violent results'.

Martial law in Mindanao remains a live case, Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said to explain why he could not discuss it during the Second International Conference on Cordillera Studies on July 13 at Camp John Hay here.

Leonen was the lone dissenter when the high court dismissed all petitions questioning President Duterte's declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

'I will, however, build upon a point I underscored in my [dissenting] opinion and can apply generally. In the concluding portion of the opinion I have the honor to make the following statements: The words we choose can always have violent consequences,' Leonen said at the start of his talk on laws and their impact on the indigenous peoples.

'Characterizing or labeling events on the basis of categories that law provides is quintessentially a legal act. It is not a power granted to the President alone, even as Commander in Chief. It is the power wielded by this country's judiciary with finality.'

Most important case

He added: 'Through that power entrusted to us by the sovereign Filipino peoples we temper the potentials of force. We ensure the protection of rights, which embed in our society's values the same values which the terrorists may want us to deny.'

According to him, the martial law issue could be one of the most important cases to be addressed by the Supreme Court.

'Rarely if ever would all 15 justices of the Supreme Court write separate opinions on a single case. That underscores the gravity of the issues as well as the potentials for different approaches on the same problem,' he said.

The decisions centered on each justice's interpretation of Section 18, Article 7 in the 1987 Constitution, which prescribes the power of the Commander in Chief, Leonen said.

'Regretfully, I cannot speak about the case or any other pending case. It is still a live case since there is still a period within which a motion for reconsideration will be filed and deliberated by the court,' he said.

In describing how the judiciary addresses indigenous peoples' concerns, Leonen said:

'We accept concepts of what is legitimate, simply because these are shaped by authority such as interpretations by courts ... Courts with a tendency to be activist are often told or shamed so they become more restrained or least dangerous,' he said.


'In doing so, society misses a clear understanding of what truly exists-societies, which are multidimensional and multivocal, are fraught always with contradictions.'

Most people's understanding of laws is drawn from what Leonen called 'legal consciousness.' For instance, he said people automatically drive on the right lane and stop when the traffic light turns red because of a commonsensical understanding of rules and norms.

But the same people 'do what they do until a dissenting voice, or one who thinks radically, impinges upon their existence,' he said.

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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Jul 16, 2017
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