No limit to martial law powers, SC rules

By: - Reporter / @MRamosINQ
/ 07:00 AM July 07, 2017

The Supreme Court has dismissed fears that the proclamation of martial law in Mindanao would lead to a dictatorial regime and declared that there was no constitutional limit to President Duterte’s sole discretion to exercise extraordinary emergency powers to deal with a rebellion.

The majority decision, penned by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo, said the nation was facing a “crisis of such magnitude and proportion that we all need to summon the spirit of unity and act as one undivided nation, if we are to overcome and prevail in the struggle at hand.”


“Can we not sheathe our swords and pause for a while to bury our dead, including our differences and prejudices?” said the 82-page ruling.

The majority decision was released late Wednesday, a day after the Supreme Court spokesperson announced that the


justices, voting 11-3-1, had supported Mr. Duterte’s Proclamation No. 216 that also suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus following the rampage in Marawi City on May 23 by Islamic State-allied terrorists.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Benjamin Caguioa concurred with the majority, but averred that the proclamation should be confined to Marawi and several other provinces, not the whole of Mindanao.

Justice Marvic Leonen was the sole dissenter, arguing that the Marawi conflict only needed calling out the military to deal with it, not martial law.

Carpio warned his colleagues not to “play with the fire of martial law, which could turn into ashes the very Constitution that (we) are sworn to preserve and defend.”

1972 martial law debacle


“The court must never allow the 1972 debacle to be ever repeated again,” Carpio said, referring to President Ferdinand Marcos’ martial rule that lasted 14 years.


“With this wisdom from hindsight, the court must now stand firm and apply the clear letter and intent of the 1987 Constitution without fear or favor,” he added.

The new Constitution was promulgated after the ouster of Marcos in the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution. It was crafted precisely to prevent the nation from falling again into a dictatorship.

Three petitions were brought to the high tribunal questioning the sufficiency of the factual basis for Mr. Duterte’s martial law order. Opposition lawmakers led by Rep. Edcel Lagman said that the President’s report to Congress on his proclamation contained “false, inaccurate, contrived and hyperbolic accounts.”

Power of judicial review

The high court held that its “power of judicial review does not extend to calibrating the President’s decision.”

“To do so would be tantamount to an incursion into the exclusive domain of the executive and an infringement on the prerogative that solely, at least initially, lies with the President.” it said.

“In determining the existence of rebellion, the President only needs to convince himself that there is probable cause or evidence showing that more likely than not a rebellion was committed or is being committed,” the tribunal said, adding that it did not have the resources available to the President to make such determination.

The court appeared to adopt the doctrine in the 1971 Lansang case, following the bombing of the Liberal Party rally in Plaza Miranda, that the suspension of the privilege of the writ was a political question.


‘Unjustified fears’


In this case, it  held that enough safeguards had been written into the 1987 Constitution to prevent abuse of the President wielding extraordinary emergency powers.

“Considering the country’s history, it is understandable that the resurgence of martial law would engender apprehensions among the citizenry. Even the court as an institution cannot project a stance of nonchalance. However, the importance of martial law in the context of our society should outweigh one’s prejudices and apprehensions against it,” the court said.

It said the significance of martial law should not be undermined by unjustified fears and past experience. “After all, martial law is critical and crucial to the promotion of public safety, the preservation of the nation’s sovereignty and ultimately, the survival of our country,” the tribunal said.

Martial law, the court said, “is vital for the protection of the country not only against internal enemies but also against those enemies lurking beyond our shores.”

It said the “the President’s duty to maintain peace and public safety is not limited only to the place where there is actual rebellion; it extends to other areas where the present hostilities are in danger of spilling over.”

The court, the ruling said, “cannot simply take the battle of Marawi in isolation. As a crime without predetermined bounds, the President has reasonable basis to believe that the declaration of martial law … in the whole of Mindanao is most necessary, effective and called for by the circumstances.”

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TAGS: Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo, Marawi siege, Martial law, Mindanao, Philippine news updates, President Duterte, Supreme Court
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