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SC: Congress may indefinitely prolong martial law

Extension of Duterte’s Proclamation No. 216 upheld
By: - Reporter / @MRamosINQ
/ 07:20 AM February 07, 2018

Congress may indefinitely prolong President Duterte’s martial law order in Mindanao even without judicial review, the Supreme Court declared on Tuesday.

Voting 10-5, the high court affirmed the constitutionality of Joint Resolution No. 4, which the Senate and the House of Representatives approved on Dec. 13, 2017, extending Mr. Duterte’s Proclamation No. 216 up to the end of 2018.

The proclamation placed the entire Mindanao under martial law and suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus after Islamic State-inspired Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists overran Marawi City last May 23.

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In a ruling that seemed to have clipped its own judicial authority, the Supreme Court said the joint congressional resolution had “sufficient factual bases” as it threw out the four separate petitions questioning the yearlong extension of military rule in Mindanao.

Constitutional silence

“The Constitution is silent on how many times Congress may extend a proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus,” the court said in a decision written for the majority by Associate Justice Noel Tijam.

“The manner of Congress’ deliberation with respect to the President’s request for extension of martial law in Mindanao for one year is not subject to judicial review,” it added.

The court said the 30-year-old Constitution “does not fix a period for the duration of any extension of a proclamation or suspension but expressly leaves the matter to Congress.”

“Congress has the power to extend and determine the period of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus under Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution,” the court said.

“If the Constitutional Commission had intended to limit any extension to 60 days, it would have been expressly stated and would not have been left to Congress,” it ruled.

Rebellion persists

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Although President Duterte had already declared victory in Marawi, the tribunal said the “rebellion that spawned the Marawi incident persists.”

Moreover, the justices said the constitutional requirement was “met when there is sufficient factual bases to hold that the present and past acts constituting the actual rebellion are of such character that endanger and will endanger public safety.”

“The court’s power to review the extension of martial law is limited solely to a determination of sufficiency of factual basis,” the court said.

It was the fourth time the Duterte administration had hurdled a legal challenge to President Duterte’s executive action.

Tijam, the President’s second appointee to the tribunal, was joined by Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Samuel Martires, Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo in upholding the martial law extension.

Like Tijam, Martires, Reyes and Gesmundo had also been appointed by Mr. Duterte to the country’s highest judicial body.

Those who dissented were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Francis Jardeleza and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.

Solicitor General Jose Calida, who defended Mr. Duterte’s order during oral arguments in the high court, expressed his gratitude to the justices, saying the legal victory “will usher in the prosperity of Mindanao after the rebellion is quelled.”

60-day limit

The justices said the 60-day limit for the initial proclamation of martial law “cannot be considered to apply to any extension as determined by Congress.”

It said the Senate and the House had “full discretionary authority to formulate, adopt and promulgate its own rules,” a legislative power “generally exempt from judicial supervision and interference” save for “a clear showing of such arbitrary and improvident use of the power.”

According to the court, the petitioners failed to back up their claim that the enforcement of martial law in Mindanao had led to human rights violations.

“The claims of violation of human rights are speculative and lack a nexus between the exercise of martial law powers and their apprehension of such violations,” it said.

It also did not give weight to the petitioners’ argument that there was no need to impose military rule since the government was still able to function in the entire southern Philippines.

“Reading this theory into the Constitution would be to incorporate something that does not exist in the Constitution’s text,” it pointed out.

“When the President and Congress ascertain whether public safety requires the declaration and extension of martial law, they do so by calibrating not only the present state of public safety but the further repercussions of the actual rebellion to public safety in the future as well,” the court said.

In a press briefing after the decision came down, opposition Rep. Tomasito Villarin said the Supreme Court “abdicated what its function should be,” which is “to serve as the check and balance to a very powerful Executive.”

Marcos Supreme Court

Villarin said the current Supreme Court composition was “just like the Marcos Supreme Court under [the late Chief Justice Enrique] Fernando, who abdicated the role as a constitutional balance.”

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said appealing the decision would be futile, although he found no valid reason to uphold the extension of martial law.

“When the Supreme Court, which is the court of last resort, is not anymore the court of any resort, then that emboldens the President to continue violating the rule of law,” Lagman said.

“When the majority of the justices fall in cadence with the President and Congress in violating the Constitution, then the country is abandoned in the quagmire of tripartite derogation of civil liberties,” he added.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the Supreme Court “failed to see the suffering of Mindanaons who are victims of military abuses due to martial law.”

With the Supreme Court’s decision, he said, the military would “be further emboldened to commit atrocities against ‘lumad’ and other Mindanaons.”

“We must continue to defend our rights,” Zarate said.

Drieza Lininding, chair of the Moro Consensus Group, said the decision would only worsen the plight of the Maranao, who have already suffered from the effects of the conflict in Marawi City.

“The [martial law extension] means that they can loot whatever is left of our properties, they can continue to terrorize us and violate our human rights,” Lininding said, referring to rights violations reported by Marawi residents displaced by the conflict. —With reports from Vince F. Nonato and Jigger Jerusalem

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