Congress lukewarm to writ suspension
A PROPOSAL to suspend the writ of habeas corpus—which protects against warrantless arrests—to boost President Duterte’s war on drugs has gained no traction in Congress, with members of the Senate and the House of Representatives saying on Friday there was no basis for it to happen.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a bosom buddy of the President, said the declaration of martial law “will never happen” under the current administration, even as he said congress should carefully study what sort of emergency powers it may grant him following last week’s bomb blast in Davao city that left 14 dead.
“Let’s not think about martial law. It will never happen under a Duterte administration,” the Davao del Norte representative told reporters on the sidelines of the budget hearing of the Department of Transportation.
Asked what gave him the confidence, Alvarez only said: “I know President Duterte. He will never do that.”
Asked what he thought of Sen. Richard Gordon’s proposal to allow Mr. Duterte to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, the House leader said it required further study.
“We need to study the proposal if that is a proper thing to do,” he said.
Others objected to the Gordon proposal, including Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who described it as “constitutionally flawed.”
Under the 1987 Constitution, he said, suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and declare martial law was to be granted not by legislative authorization but only “in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it.”
Lagman added that the suspension of the writ should “apply only to persons judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in or directly connected with invasion,” and not to drug related cases.
“Gordon’s proposal falls into the perceived calibrated scheme of the President increasingly exercising emergency powers, from a declaration of a state of national emergency on account of lawless violence to possibly culminating in a declaration of martial law,” he said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said Gordon’s proposal was “unwarranted” as it could lead to more human rights violations.
“The fight against drugs and terrorism should go full steam ahead but not at the expense of human rights and civil liberties that our countrymen have fought for so hard to attain,” he said.
Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque, a human rights lawyer, warned that suspending the writ was a “slippery and dangerous path” to the imposition of martial rule.
The writ of habeas corpus—literally “you have the body” in Latin—is issued by a court in “all cases of illegal confinement or detention” and requires the arresting authorities to produce the person in question. The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos suspended the writ, and used martial law to round up thousands of activists and political opponents during his brutal term.
In the upper chamber, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said government’s antidrug campaign must be grounded on law and on a strong human rights framework. She said the writ “is one of the key legal devices to prevent unlawful detention and other human rights violations, such as torture, enforced disappearances and other ill-treatment.”
Minority leader Sen. Vicente Sotto said he believed Gordon’s proposal would not move forward given the unfavorable view of lawmakers.
“At the moment, I doubt if most members of Congress will agree and admit to its necessity,” Sotto said.
Gordon’s proposal comes amid continued concerns raised over human rights violations in the Duterte administration’s war against illegal drugs, as the bodies of drug suspects continue to pile up.
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