Jul 082017

(Supreme Court of the Philippines}

MANILA, July 6 (Mabuhay) –Supreme Court justices believe fears and apprehensions stemming from the nation’s traumatic experience during the Marcos years should not dilute the significance of the imposition of martial law for the promotion of public safety.

Affirming President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law declaration in Mindanao aimed at crushing ISIS-inspired militants, the SC said the 1987 Constitution placed several safeguards to prevent possible abuses of the commander-in-chief’s powers.

“Not only were the grounds limited to actual invasion or rebellion, but its duration was likewise fixed at 60 days, unless sooner revoked, nullified, or extended; at the same time, it is subject to the veto powers of the Court and Congress,” the July 4 decision stated.

While the imposition of martial law would create apprehensions among the public, the SC said the “importance of martial law in the context of our society should outweigh one’s prejudices and apprehensions against it.”

“The significance of martial law should not be undermined by unjustified fears and past experience,” the SC said. “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.”

It also added that martial law “is vital for the protection of the country not only against internal enemies but also against those enemies lurking from beyond our shores. As such, martial law should not be cast aside, or its scope and potency limited and unsubstantiated assumptions.”

The late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was accused of committing widespread human rights violations and amassing ill-gotten wealth during his 20-year rule, 14 of them spent as a dictator after placing the country under martial rule in 1972. He was ousted from office following the People Power revolt in February 1986.

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared martial law in 2009 but only for Maguindanao in response to the gruesome Maguindanao massacre were 58 people, more than half of them journalists, were killed.

Duterte, on the other hand, availed of his martial law powers under Section 18, Article VII of the Constitution after Maute group-led terror organizations attempted to establish an Islamic State province in Mindanao by assaulting Marawi City on May 23.

Clashes to rid the city of militants continue to this day.

According to the SC, the president’s conclusion that there was an armed public uprising “was reached after a tactical consideration of the facts.”

“Proclamation No. 216 has sufficient factual basis there being probable cause to believe that rebellion exists and that public safety requires the martial law declaration and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus,” the ruling stated.

The decision also said the high court should not expect “absolute correctness of the facts” stated in the proclamation and in the written report to Congress “as the president could not be expected to verify the accuracy and veracity of all facts reported to him due to the urgency of the situation.”

“Corollary, as the president is expected to decide quickly on whether there is a need to proclaim martial law even only on the basis of intelligence reports, it is irrelevant, for purposes of the Court’s review, if subsequent events prove that the situation had not been accurately reported to him,” the SC said.

Not even falsities in the declaration, as alleged by the petitioners, are enough reasons for the high court to invalidate Duterte’s action.

The SC said the president’s action is valid as long as there are other facts in the proclamation and the written report that support the conclusion that there is an actual invasion or rebellion, and that public safety requires the declaration of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

In determining the existence of rebellion, the SC said 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.

President can place whole nation under martial law

The SC also said the Constitution gives the president the discretion to determine the territorial coverage or application of martial law or suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, which aims to facilitate the speedy apprehension of suspected rebels.

“He may put the entire Philippines or only a part thereof under martial law,” the decision read.

“This is both an acknowledgement and a recognition that it is the Executive Department, particularly the President as Commander-in-Chief, who is the repository of vital, classified, and live information necessary for and relevant in calibrating the territorial application of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. It, too, is a concession that the President has the tactical and military support, and thus has a more informed understanding of what is happening on the ground.”

The high court ruled that 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. It is not intended merely to prevent the escape of lawless elements from Marawi City, but also to avoid enemy reinforcements and to cut their supply lines coming from different parts of Mindanao,” the SC said.

“Thus, limiting the proclamation and/or suspension to the place where there is actual rebellion would not only defeat the purpose of declaring martial law, it will make the exercise thereof ineffective and useless.”

It also said that there is no constitutional provision that such emergency power should be implemented only in the place where actual rebellion exists.

Eleven of the 15 justices agree that the scope of martial law should cover the whole of Mindanao while three magistrates—Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa—believe the coverage of martial rule should be limited to some areas only.

Sereno and Caguioa said martial law should have been declared only in Lanao Del Sur, Maguindanao and Sulu. Carpio wanted it to be limited to Marawi City, the heart of skirmishes between government troops and militants.

Only Associate Justice Marvic Leonen voted for the junking of Proclamation 216, which was challenged by several groups for alleged lack of sufficient factual basis. (MNS)

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