Chief Justice: Guard against abuse during martial law

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 26) — In the light of President Rodrigo Duterte's proclamation of martial rule in Mindanao, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno called on fresh graduates to guard against possible human rights violations in a commencement address at the Ateneo de Manila University graduation ceremonies on Friday.

"As we face the days following President Duterte's declaration of martial law in Mindanao, it behooves us to ask what we can do in the present, with the time that is given to us, to ensure that the horrors of martial law that followed the 1972 declaration do not happen again," said Sereno.

Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on Tuesday, which followed a clash between government and Maute Group forces in Marawi City. Although promising there will be no military or police abuses, Duterte also said it "will be harsh," and mulled over extending martial law to a year and expanding it to Visayas and Luzon if terrorism persists.

Related: Possible nationwide martial law; could last longer - Duterte

Although met with support by some, the proclamation also drew concern from some officials and citizens, most recently Sereno.

"Given the present day, when the possibility of history repeating itself looms imminent, no cause requires your commitment as much as the cause of human rights, justice, and democracy," she added.

After the declaration, the Supreme Court on Wednesday called for "courts in Mindanao to remain open and all judges to remain in station, as far as local circumstances may allow."

Sereno's speech, entitled "The Atenean facing martial law," was met with applause in the school, which is also known for its criticism against martial rule and the controversial burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos last November.

She said that she had scrapped her original speech on Thursday in favor of a "more urgent and specific subject matter."

Sereno went on to enumerate different cases and decisions handled by the Supreme Court that cited abuses in plunder and human rights violations during the Marcos regime.

She added, "we are not fighting a person or an establishment but a culture, a pattern that pervades our society today."

She also appeared to take a dig at the Duterte administration, which has been criticized worldwide for its war on drugs, which has seen thousands of deaths since its launch in July.

"For today, people's fundamental human rights and freedoms, the core of our democracy, face grave and blatant threats. The culture of impunity is on the rise," said Sereno. "People are pressured to favor the easy choice over the right choice: expediency over due process; convenient labeling over fairness; the unlawful termination of human life over rehabilitation."

Referencing the university's sports slogan, she asked graduates to "stand up and give one big fight" when faced with threats to human rights or democracy.

"Know that being a person for others and standing for human rights, justice, and democracy are one and the same," said Sereno.

She called on graduates "to value others' freedoms as much as you value your own... to oppose any attempts to value one group's freedoms more than those of others... [and] to love your country and your people so fully that you will act to ensure democratic processes are followed despite great personal cost."

Sereno graduated from Ateneo de Manila University in 1980, during period of martial law under Marcos.