Source: Wikipedia Commons

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Querying Martial Law in Mindanao

1 June 2017

Even by Philippine standards, the past week has been a tumultuous one. Militants linked to Islamic State fought security forces in the Islamic City of Marawi, President Duterte cut short a state visit to Russia and declared Martial Law in Mindanao, and peace negotiations with the Communist insurgents seem on the verge of breakdown. ‘Martial Law’ in the Philippines is now guided by the 1987 Constitution that was crafted after the 1986 overthrow of former president Ferdinand Marcos, who had declared Martial Law in 1972.

It’s worth reiterating here the current constitutional provisions on Martial Law, which—while allowing it in the case of invasion or rebellion—are meant to avoid the unfortunate experience of the past:

It is for 60 days (any extension requires Congressional approval); Any citizen can bring to the Supreme Court a case questioning the factual basis of the declaration; Section 18 of Article VII of the 1987 Constitution is explicit that Martial Law does not supplant the rest of the government:

A state of martial law does not suspend the operation of the Constitution, nor supplant the functioning of the civil courts or legislative assemblies, nor authorize the conferment of jurisdiction on military courts and agencies over civilians where civil courts are able to function […] The suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall apply only to persons judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in, or directly connected with, invasion. During the suspension of the privilege of the writ, any person thus arrested or detained shall be judicially charged within three days, otherwise he shall be released.

The Memorandum from the Department of Defense about the implementation reiterated this Constitutional provision and reminded the Armed Forces of the Philippines that in Mindanao ‘the rule of law and human rights should prevail’.

Due to parliamentary arithmetic, one particular restriction introduced in 1987 is not relevant at this moment. Congress can revoke Martial Law by a majority vote, but the voting is by both houses jointly; that is, the 24-member Senate (elected nationally) and the 297-member House of Representatives (elected by district and from party lists). Since virtually all representatives are currently part of the Duterte administration’s ‘supermajority’ there is no chance that Martial Law will be revoked, so no joint session will be convened.

From the beginning of Duterte’s national prominence, part of his strongman image has included talk of Martial Law. Even before he was a declared candidate for president, he talked of instituting a ‘revolutionary’ government to ensure reforms. This echoes the rhetoric in the early 1970s by Ferdinand Marcos, when he characterised his Martial Law project as ‘Revolution from the Center’. Duterte’s admiration is explicit: as he remarked, ‘Marcos was excellent. He was able to run his government. He was obeyed. Unlike now, you are not being followed. Each one has their own style of plundering … you cannot do that under my term’.

To read the entire article by Steven Rood, visit the New Mandala website.

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