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Lawyers question Arroyo's powers

Malacanang Palace riot
A senator suspected of organizing pro-Estrada rallyists has been arrested.  

MANILA, Philippines -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is committing a legal blunder in using a "state of rebellion" to justify arrests of Estrada supporters, Philippine lawyers say.

Arroyo issued the declaration Tuesday covering Metro Manila, after the dispersal of thousands of Estrada supporters who marched on the presidential palace.

The police have brought Senator Juan Ponce Enrile to police headquarters for "tactical interrogation."

"Whatever you call it, it's practically an arrest," Enrile told CNN, adding that he had not been served an arrest warrant nor formally charged with a specific crime.

Former senator Rene Saguisag said that President Arroyo was ill-advised in "conjuring" the term "state of rebellion" to justify arrests.

"There is no such animal in the legal zoo," Saguisag said.

Even the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the national association of lawyers, has condemned the declaration as "outside of the Constitution," he added.

University of the Philippine law professor Harry Roque said that Arroyo's declaration was "ridiculous" and has become "the laughing stock of even a first-year law student."

Three extraordinary powers

Declaring a state of rebellion is not among the presidency's "three extraordinary powers" that allows warrantless arrests, Roque said.

The three powers are the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the declaration of martial law, and the declaration of a state of emergency.

If the president decides to use any of these powers, "Congress will still have to concur," Roque added.

Arroyo's declaration is "just a factual statement which would prove lawlessness and entitle Arroyo to call in the military, but not order warrantless arrests," Roque stressed.

Roque said those suspected of organizing the march on Malacanang Palace earlier Tuesday should first be charged in court.

The state of rebellion declaration does not warrant hold-departure orders either.

Press Secretary Roberto Capco confirmed there were such orders but said he "still (had) to get the list."

Professor Roque said such an order is not allowed "unless a pending criminal case exists."

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