On May 23, 2017 (Tuesday), the atrocities in Marawi City led by the ISIS-leaning Maute group made headlines. At that time, the President of the Republic of the Philippines, His Excellency Rodrigo R. Duterte, was in Russia on an official state visit. Once briefed about the situation, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella, in a press briefing, announced that the President had declared Martial Law in all of Mindanao.
We asked three Thomasians about their views on the matter, particularly on the constitutionality of the declaration and what can be expected in the next sixty days.
Marcos time vs. Duterte era
The power to declare Martial Law in the country or its parts rests in the President—this is something similar during the infamous Martial Law of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos and incumbent President Duterte. However, Martial Law was different in the 1970s in comparison to the 2017 version, owing to the provisions of the 1987 Constitution. “Because of our experience under the Marcos Dictatorship. There are so many fail safes incorporated under the 1987 constitution. This means before, the declaration of martial law is absolutely an executive function,” said Political Science faculty member Edmund Tayao.
“All three branches of government are mentioned in the martial law provisions of the 1987 Constitution,” points out UST Political Science department chair Dennis Coronacion, PhD.
“Although Art. VII, Sec. 18 of the 1987 Constitution vests in the President the power to proclaim martial law or suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, he shares such power with the Congress,” Atty. Al Conrad Espaldon, coach of the UST Law Debate and Moot Team and adviser of the UST Bar Operations, said in an interview. According to Espaldon, the proclamation or suspension is temporary, good only for sixty (60) days, and the President must report his action in person or in writing to Congress within forty-eight (48) hours.”
Espaldon, citing the 2012 ruling on Fortun v. Macapagal-Arroyo, et al., stated that while the President has the power to declare Martial Law, Congress has the power to maintain or revoke the declaration after its evaluation of the situation.
As for the Supreme Court, Coronacion noted that the “judiciary can review the facts that justify the declaration of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.” Upon receipt of an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen, the Supreme Court must render its decision within thirty days from the filing, according to Espaldon, citing the IBP vs. Zamora, 2000 case.
After sixty days
Unless Congress extends Martial Law in Mindanao, it will automatically be lifted after sixty days.
The writ of habeas corpus
Espaldon explains that the writ of habeas corpus directs the person who is detaining another person to produce the body of the latter at a designated time and place and to show the cause of such detention.
The option of the President to implement to suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus requires the declaration of martial law in the Philippines or any of its parts. The President can only suspend the privilege of the writ, but not the writ itself. `
If such privilege is suspended, only those persons who have been judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in or directly connected with invasion will be covered. These persons must be charged within three days; otherwise, they must be released.
Civilian rights under Martial Law
Espaldon said that Martial Law does not “suspend the operation of the Constitution, supplant the functioning of the civil courts or legislative assemblies, and authorize conferment of jurisdiction over civilians where civil courts are able to function.” In short, civilians cannot be tried in military courts, when civil courts remain operational.
Being vigilant and responsible
After the declaration, netizens—both plain citizens and personalities alike—voiced mixed reactions to the development. Some praised and supported the President, while others voiced concern about the decision to place all of Mindanao under martial rule.
Reacting to this behavior, Tayao called on people to “be equally interested with how rebellion and lawlessness have become in Mindanao.” He further said that too much coverage and publicity may become counter-protective to quelling insurgency: “Media should refrain from reporting troop movements, especially military plans. We should learn from the Luneta hostage taking and the Zamboanga siege, where the media were given free access and the perpetrators managed to anticipate government forces’ moves every step of the way.”
The six-day-old declaration continues to get diverse reactions from different quarters. What remains true, however, is the desire for lasting peace to finally take hold in the country, and for those affected to be alleviated from the perils of armed conflict.