martial law mindanao
Image courtesy of ABS-CBN News

For the umpteenth time, Malacanang spokesmen had to explain what President Duterte had casually told soldiers just a few days after declaring martial law in Mindanao. The President said he would ignore the Supreme Court and Congress if they meddle with his decision to declare martial law in Mindanao.

“Until the police and the Armed Forces say the Philippines is safe, this martial law will continue. I will not listen to others. The Supreme Court, Congress, they are not here,” Duterte told soldiers. “Are they the ones dying and losing blood, bleeding, hemorrhaging because there is no help, no reinforcement? It’s not them.” 

As he usually does, he uses drama and bravado to gain the support of the people and his listeners, ignoring the fact that under the 1987 Constitution, which was promulgated exactly to prevent the repeat of the abuses under President Marcos’ martial law, Congress and the Supreme Court have oversight powers in the event of a declaration of martial law.

The Constitution requires Congress to approve a president’s declaration of martial law, and limits military rule for 60 days. If a president wants to extend it, he or she must again get congressional endorsement. The Supreme Court can also rule on martial law’s legality, and being the final arbiter on matters of law and constitutionality, its word is supposed to be final.

Wiht Duterte’s remarks, he had already made known his intention to disregard the Constitution in: First, the oversight powers of the Supreme Court and Congress; and second, on the duration of martial law which he said would continue until the Armed Forces and the National Police tell him the country is safe. He even intimidated that martial law could last for one year.

The next day, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella, obviously realizing that his boss had shot himself on the foot again, said Duterte had no intention of bypassing Congress and the Supreme Court on his martial law declaration.

During the same speech, Duterte said soldiers and policemen could conduct searches and make arrests without warrants from the court. He said they only need to get a signed arrest, search and seizure order (ASSO) from their commanders. But these ASSOs were precisely the documents used by soldiers during martial law to commit abuses against civilians.

Besides, the 1987 Constitution is very clear that civil courts continue to be open and that no arrests or searches can be made without warrants issued by these civilian courts.

The 1987 Constitution provides that even during martial law, the Bill of Rights must be strictly followed, civilian courts shall reign supreme, and the legislature cannot be abolished. The Charter is also very clear in ensuring that Congress and the Supreme Court must review the proclamation of martial law.

Because its leaders and members are mostly loyal allies of the President, it seems Congress, especially the House of Representatives, is abandoning its duty and responsibility to review Duterte’s martial law declaration. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and House Majority Leader Rudy Farinas, both Duterte loyalists, insist there is no need for a joint session to review the declaration . The Constitution is very explicit about the need for the Senate and the House to convene in joint session within 24 hours after receiving the President’s report to deliberate on the martial law declaration and vote whether to allow it or not.

One question that the senators and congressmen have to discuss is whether the condition of “invasion and rebellion” exists, and if, indeed, such condition exists, does it merit a martial law declaration throughout Mindanao, and not just in Marawi City.

The opposition, led by Sen. Francis Pangilinan, filed a resolution calling for both houses to convene in a joint session for the sole purpose of reviewing the martial law declaration but being severely outnumbered, it has been ignored.

The Supreme Court has ruled in the 2012 case Colmenares vs. Arroyo that the review is automatic and not optional.

Despite the doublespeak by his spokesmen, Duterte has long established by his actions and remarks that he is leading the country to the road to tyranny. Even during the campaign, he had threatened to abolish Congress if it blocked his agenda for reforms. He has shown a penchant for disregarding the rule of law as shown in his deadly drug war.

He has shown a disdain for criticism, which is an important element in a democracy. He has jailed his foremost critic, Sen Leila de Lima, and is now threatening to do the same to Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and other opposition politicians by using convicted criminals and the alleged pork scam mastermind to go against them.

He has threatened the judiciary many times, saying the courts are blocking his programs by issuing temporary restraining orders (TROs). He has warned the Supreme Court, a co-equal branch, not to bring the country into a constitutional crisis when it is he who has shown disrespect for the fundamental law of the land

He has shown an utter disregard for human rights, as he justifies the killing and arrest without warrants of drug suspects to eliminate the country’s drug problem.

The signs are there and are happening right before our very eyes – the Machiavellian principle of the end justifies the means, sacrificing human rights for the safety of the people or the common good and mass following of blind supporters.

These are troubling and clear signs that we are on a “slippery slope to tyranny.” It is up to Congress, the Supreme Court and a vigilant citizenry to decide whether they would allow the democracy that the Filipino people fought valiantly for in 1986 to slip again from their grasp.