By Kristine Joy V. Patag

SC upholds martial law declaration in Mindanao

Posted on July 05, 2017

THE SUPREME Court (SC) on Tuesday, July 4, upheld President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s Proclamation No. 216, placing Mindanao under martial law.

Philippine Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te answers a question from members of the media during a press briefing at the Supreme Court in Manila on July 4, 2017. AFP
Voting 11-3-1, the SC justices sitting in full court dismissed the consolidated petitions challenging the sufficiency of the factual basis of Mr. Duterte’s martial law declaration.

In a press briefing, SC Spokesperson Theodore O. Te said that 11 justices voted to dismiss the petitions, three justices voted to partially grant the petition, while one justice voted to grant the petition. Mr. Te, however, did not identify how the justices voted, saying this was all he was “authorized to say.”

“All 15 Justices have circulated their respective Opinions, whether concurring or dissenting. All Opinions will be finalized and submitted by tomorrow,” Mr. Te added.

Mr. Duterte, in an ambush interview yesterday while visiting a wake for a massacred family in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, said he “would give due respect to the opinions, the dissenting (views) questioning the martial law power of the President.”

He earlier warned he would ignore an SC decision against his proclamation and even threatened to jail critics of his proclamation.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto C. Abella, for his part, said that with the SC affirming Proclamation No. 216, “the whole government now stands together as one against a common enemy.”

Clashes between the government forces and pro-Islamic State (IS) Maute militants broke out in Marawi City on May 23, triggering one of the biggest internal security crises in the Philippines in years.

Following the clashes, Mr. Duterte placed the entire Mindanao and its islands under martial law and suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus there. He said this was to foil what he said was Maute’s plan to establish a caliphate for IS in Marawi.

But the fighting has dragged on for six weeks and only two weeks remain for martial law’s effectivity.

Three groups of petitioners -- composed of lawmakers, residents of Marawi City and human rights groups -- challenged before the SC the “sufficiency of factual basis” of Mr. Duterte’s Proclamation No. 216, as held under Section 18, Article 7 of the 1987 constitution.

The current Constitution contains safeguards on martial law such as limiting its enforcement to 60 days and allowing the high court and Congress to review the proclamation.

This is to prevent a repeat of the abuses under the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, who detained his critics during his martial rule and used this to stay in power for another 14 years. Mr. Marcos was overthrown in 1986 by a People Power revolution led, among others, by the PDP-Laban, Mr. Duterte’s own party.

The SC, for the three petitions, held a three-day consecutive hearing via oral arguments on June 13 to 15. Solicitor General Jose C. Calida, who represented the named government officials as respondents, issued a statement minutes before the SC made its official announcement.

Mr. Calida said the SC’s dismissal of the petitions is a “monumental decision,” as it “underscores the existence of a real and present rebellion that threatens the lives of our fellow Filipinos in Mindanao, and their much-cherish liberties.”

He further extended his gratitude to the high court “for allowing [Mr.] Duterte to perform his prime duty of protecting the Filipino people,” adding: “As the conscience of our nation, the [SC] did not sit idly to watch our country get dismembered.”

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief General Eduardo M. Año, who appeared before the high court on the third day of its hearing, said in a statement that the military forces “[take] this (decision) as a vote of confidence that we are doing what is right and what is necessary for the restoration of the rule of law, peace and order in the whole island.”

“The mission is not yet done but we can assure our citizens that we are focused and determined to carry on the fight (un)til peace and order in Mindanao is fully restored and the liberation of Marawi is achieved at the soonest possible time,” Mr. Año added.

Petitioner Renato Reyes, who is also Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) secretary-general, told reporters he was not surprised with the decision, but warned the “SC has only made it easier to declare martial law all over the country. They made it easier to commit human rights violations in many parts of the country.”

“This is a bad omen that militarists and the President will be more emboldened to continue martial law beyond 60 days, and it’s possible that this would be imposed all over the country,” Mr. Reyes added.

Vice-President Maria Leonor G. Robredo, in a statement, said the decision was an “important component of the mandated checks and balances to martial law.” She added, however, that, “We expect that Congress will likewise fulfill its Constitutional duty to review, on behalf of the people, the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.”

Some senators also called for vigilance on Mr. Duterte’s proclamation, especially as the 60-day period imposed by the Constitution is about complete.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, in a statement, noted, “But what is more important today and in the next 17 days is how to end the fighting in Marawi which has already claimed the lives of many of our soldiers, displaced thousands of residents, and disrupted all forms of human and economic activity in the area.”

“Immediate and effective aid must come to the people of Marawi and I call on our government to immediately prepare a long-term rehabilitation plan that will bring normalcy back to the affected areas,” Mr. Drilon said, adding, “I urge the Senate leadership to ask the Executive for an update on the situation in Marawi.”

Senator Paolo Benigno A. Aquino IV, for his part, said: “Let’s focus on giving displaced Filipino families the support they need and be ready to pour all efforts to rebuilding Marawi, reestablishing our schools, and creating jobs and livelihood for the community.”

Mr. Duterte’s proclamation ends on July 23, the eve of his second State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros-Baraquel also backed Mr. Reyes’s fear that the SC decision “sets a dangerous precedent for undemocratic governance.”

“Lest we forget, bad precedents stem from seemingly justifiable measures. With the ruling, martial law becomes the “default response” of the state to address all acts of violence and lawlessness,” Ms. Hontiveros said.

The SC has yet to rule on two other petitions filed against Proclamation No. 216 and seeking to compel Congress to convene and deliberate on the declaration.

Mr. Calida in his comment on the said petitions -- filed by former solicitor-general Florin T. Hilbay and ex-senator Wigberto E. Tañada -- said: “The Constitution only provides for the conduct of ‘voting jointly’ and only for the purpose of revoking or extending the proclamation or suspension.”

Senator Joel T. Villanueva, for his part, said in a mobile phone reply to BusinessWorld that the “request for extension should come from the President.”

“We will be ready to assess and make that decision if there’s really a need to extend the declaration on [martial law],” Mr. Villanueva added.

Senator Joseph Victor G. Ejercito in his text message, when sought for comment, said he “will suggest that defense and security officials brief the Senate before the 60-day deadline, so that we’ll have a better grasp of the situation.” -- with Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral, Jil Danielle M. Caro, and Raynan F. Javil