“To imply that martial law with its extraordinary powers is a benign solution to our problems is a misrepresentation that has a conditioning effect on our people to accept authoritarianism until it’s too late to stop, and this should not be allowed to happen.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — There is no legal and factual basis to extend martial law in Mindanao for another year.
This is the assertion of the four petitioners against a yearlong extension of martial law in Mindanao during the first day of the oral arguments at the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday, Jan. 16.
Four petitions were filed in the SC questioning the constitutionality of the second extension of martial law until Dec. 31, 2018.
Among the petitioners were Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, former Commission on Human Rights chairperson Loretta Rosales, former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares and lawyer Christian Monsod, who was a member of Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution.
President Duterte declared martial law in the whole island of Mindanao on May 24, 2017 for 60 days only. It was then extended up to October of the same year.
The SC upheld the constitutionality of the declaration of martial law in its decision in July 2017 with only Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen voting to nullify the martial law declaration.
In December last year, both the House of Representatives and the Senate approved Duterte’s request to once more extend martial law in Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2018.
Several groups oppose the extension and also the hasty approval of Duterte’s request without extensive deliberations.
‘No actual war’
The counsels and petitioners themselves reiterated in their opening statements that there is no need for martial law in Mindanao in the absence of actual war.
In his letter to Congress requesting for the extension of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao, Duterte said martial law should be extended to completely eradicate terrorist groups in the island including the National People’s Army (NPA).
Lagman said that in October last year, President Duterte declared the defeat of extremist group Maute. The president declared that the remaining few members of the group have no capacity to continue rebellion.
Lagman said that based on the Philippine Constitution, an extension of martial law could only be imposed if an “invasion or rebellion still persists and public safety requires it.” After the war ended last year, Lagman said, the state of rebellion no longer existed.
Colmenares meanwhile said the extension of martial law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus do not comply with the Constitutional grounds of existence of actual rebellion and need for public safety.
“Public safety your honor is a requisite in the context of the exercise of martial law powers, arising when the operations of the civilian government are substantially impaired or courts have difficulty in functioning or the delivery of public service is mainly compromised that government has to resort to the extraordinary imposition of martial law,” he said.
Colmenares also said that the government has been consistently targeting to crush the NPA for decades as well as other armed groups such as the Abu Sayaff even without the declaration of martial law.
“Perhaps the declaration of martial law is not intended to defeat the rebels but to silence critiques of the government and other opposition,” he said.
Monsod also pointed out that that fighting against the NPAs was not even included in the original declaration of martial law.
The NPAs were only included in list of armed groups in the second extension of martial law in Mindanao.
Monsod added, “To imply that martial law with its extraordinary powers is a benign solution to our problems is a misrepresentation that has a conditioning effect on our people to accept authoritarianism until it’s too late to stop, and this should not be allowed to happen.”
Not enough information
In his interpellation, Leonen asked Lagman if Congress was given the Operational Directive of the Chief of Staff to the Service Commands for the extension of martial law. Lagman said the only thing provided to Congress was the letter of President Duterte with the recommendations by the Secretary of National Defense and the Chief of Staff.
“Was there intelligence information given to each member of the House and the Senate when they reviewed the factual basis of the assertions in the letter?” Leonen asked.
Lagman said there was a briefing before the joint session but there were no confidential reports relayed to them.
Leonen then asked Lagman, “So Congress relied on a briefing but was not given materials when it actually voted for the extension of martial law in the entirety of Mindanao for one year?”
“You were relying on the letter of the President, the letter of the SND (Secretary of National Defense), the letter of the chief of staff and the words given only during the briefing?” he added.
Lagman responded in the affirmative adding that they were given only three minutes to interpellate the executive panel.
Question left unanswered
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno meanwhile in her interpellation to Colmenares said that there was one question that was left unanswered in the previous oral arguments also on martial law.
Sereno was among the Justices who affirmed the declaration of martial law but only in Marawi City and the rest of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and Sulu. In her dissenting opinion, Sereno said that President Duterte “was unable to lay down sufficient factual basis to declare martial law and suspend the writ of habeas corpus” in the whole Mindanao region.
“What really were the martial law powers required for when we heard this question last year? Have you found an answer to that? What does a really good government need martial law for?”
Colmenares said they have pointed out in their motion for reconsideration after the SC affirmed the Duterte’s first declaration of martial law in 2017 that the government has refused to fully divulge what specific martial law powers it needed.
“If the government will say that it is only for psychological effect then we cannot grant President Duterte the heavy martial law powers when it’s not even needed,” he said.
This has led them to question the need for martial law to quell the rebellion as it has been going on for years even after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos ‘martial law had ended. He said the government has not also specified the targets except that there are still remaining members of the extremist groups such as the Abu Sayaff, the Maute group, the BIFF and the NPA.
“All of which your Honors, for us petitioners, do not constitute the level of public safety required by the imposition of martial law,” he said.
Sereno then asked Colmenares about their theory on what the martial law extension is for. “Is it a political tool? What kind of tool? What is it really for?” Colmenares said they believe that martial law is intended to suppress the critics of the Duterte administration.