To Take A Stand
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr.

I wrote in this space last May 30 that martial law throughout the country is coming. This expectation is based on President Rodrigo Duterte’s statements subsequent to his proclamation of martial law over the entire island of Mindanao on May 23. Believing that terrorists can easily slip into Mindanao’s neighboring islands, the President hinted that he is inclined to declare martial law in the Visayas as well. He has also said that martial law can be expanded to the whole country if terrorists are found to be operating in other parts of the country.

About the possible extension of martial law in Mindanao beyond 60 days, the President told soldiers in Jolo: “Until the police and the Armed Forces say the Philippines is safe, this martial law will continue. I will not listen to others. The Supreme Court justices, the congressmen, they are not here.” As the president, he is the supreme authority over the police force and the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. He has therefore the final say with regard to the safety of the entire country from terrorists. And upon his proclamation by Congress as president-elect, he declared, “I decide alone.” So, he alone will decide if terrorists are operating in other parts of the country.

The Supreme Court’s decision upholding the validity of the declaration of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the entire Mindanao region has also recognized the power of the President to put the entire Philippines under martial rule on the basis of the terroristic acts taking place in Marawi City. Page 73 of the court’s decision says that the discretion to determine the territorial scope of marital law lies with the president. The court further declares that the Constitution grants him the prerogative whether to put the entire Philippines or any part thereof under martial law as there is no edict that martial law should be confined only in the particular place where the armed public uprising actually transpired.

Page 77 of the decision says that there is reasonable basis to believe that Marawi is only the staging point of the rebellion, both for symbolic and strategic reasons. Marawi may not be the target but the whole of Mindanao. There is also the plan to establish a wilayah (Arabic for province) in Mindanao by staging the siege of Marawi.

Now that the Supreme Court has given its blessing to President Duterte’s predilection to put the entire country under martial rule, martial law all over the land has become imminent.

“Reasonable basis” is not exactly factual basis nor is a plan actual rebellion. It is not clear from the wording of the decision as to who found reasonable basis to believe that Marawi is only the staging point and who discovered the plan to establish an IS province in Mindanao. If it was the President’s uniformed security forces, then the justices had abdicated their duty to establish factual basis for the proclamation. If it is the justices, it would be inconsistent with their claim that they are not equipped with the competence and logistical machinery to determine the strategic value of other places in the military’s efforts to quell the rebellion and restore peace.

It is strange that the gods of Padre Faura are so quick to admit that they lack the competence and the logistical machinery to delve into military strategy and surrender to the judgment of the President and his military generals. Yet when it comes to the Reproductive Health law, the court has temporarily restrained its full implementation until it has decided whether some contraceptive devices have abortifacient character or not, instead of admitting lack of competence to make such a determination as not one of them is a doctor of medicine or a professional in a related field of science.

Among the Supreme Court associate justices who granted the President the power to declare martial law anywhere in the country simply on the basis of the possibility that acts of terrorism in a small part of the country may spill over to other parts are Associate Justices Mariano C. del Castillo, the author of the decision, Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Diosdado M. Peralta, Lucas P. Bersamin, Jose C. Mendoza, and Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe. They are the same associate justices who had shown previously their subservience to the wishes of President Duterte when they justified his order to bury former President Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani for reasons that included the claim that he was a bemedalled war veteran, that he was not convicted of any offense involving moral turpitude, and that he was not discharged dishonorably.

To uphold President Duterte’s order, the justices blatantly ignored long established facts. On Marcos being a bemedalled hero, the fact is that official records of the US military and of the Armed Forces of the Philippines do not show that Marcos was awarded any of the medals he claimed to have been awarded him. Jeff Gerth and Joel Brinkley of The New York Times, after laboriously going over the War files in the in the US National Archives, and historian Alfred McCoy, while doing research on World War II in the Philippines, discovered the fraudulence of Marcos medals. They were all obtained years after the war, and through affidavits presented to the Defense department of the Philippines when he was already a powerful politician.

Contrary to the justices’ contention that Marcos had not been convicted for reasons of moral turpitude, a US court ruled that Marcos, through his estate, is liable to pay $2 billion in damages to 10,000 victims of human rights violations during his dictatorship. The Philippine Congress had also passed a law establishing the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board to compensate victims of his regime, and the Presidential Commission on Good Government has recovered P93 billion in ill-gotten wealth from Marcos and his cronies.

As to Marcos not having been discharged dishonorably, the fact is that the Officer Corps of the Armed Forces of the Philippines decided in unceremonious fashion in February 1986 not to recognize him anymore as the commander-in-chief.

That is how the justices twist things to support their biased stand. The other associate justices who upheld the validity of Proclamation No. 216 were Bienvenido L. Reyes, Samuel R. Martires, Noel G. Tijam, and Francis Jardeleza. It will be recalled that Justice Reyes declined to take a stand on the issue of Marcos’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in deference to former President Benigno S. C. Aquino III, who appointed him to the Supreme Court, and to his San Beda College of Law classmate and Lex Talionis fraternity brod President Duterte. That was a sorry display of lack of fortitude. Justices Martires and Tijam are fellow San Beda Law alumni of the President and his first appointees (days of each other) to the Supreme Court.

These are the men and women of the highest court of the land. Theirs is not to reason why, theirs is but to comply with the wishes of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte.

These pliant justices constitute the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. Maybe we can expect them to decide on the basis of the wishes of the President. A devout wish of his is the proclamation of Bongbong Marcos as the winner in the election of the vice-president in 2016.

Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.