TWO months after declaring martial law in Mindanao, President Rodrigo Duterte said he did so to avoid impeachment.
In remarks before government troops in Marawi City on Thursday, Duterte said avoiding impeachment was one of the reasons behind his martial law declaration on May 23 under Proclamation 216.
“Because of the critical conditions as assessed by your military and the Defense department, I had to declare martial law. Otherwise, I would be the candidate for impeachment also,” Duterte said.
“Mas mabigat iyan, pwede akong maalis sa puwesto at nakakahiya [That’s more serious. I can be removed from office and that’s humiliating],” he added.
Duterte placed Mindanao under military rule last May 23 to crush the Islamic State (IS)-linked Maute group that laid siege to Marawi City following a botched government attempt to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who is said to be the IS chief in Southeast Asia. The Supreme Court upheld the declaration on July 4.
Duterte, however, did not explain at length how the non-declaration of martial law could be construed as an impeachable offense.
Under the 1987 Constitution, the President and other government officials “may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.”
The battle between government forces and the extremists continues, with more than 550 dead and thousands displaced.
The President had sent a seven-page letter to Congress seeking a five-month extension of martial law, admitting the government had been unable to put an end to the threat posed by the terror groups by July 22.
In the letter, Duterte asked Congress to convene in special session to consider an extended martial law in the interest of public safety.
“I have come to the conclusion that the existing rebellion in Mindanao which has prompted me to issue Proclamation 216 on 23 May 2017 will not be quelled completely by 22 July 2017, the last day of the 60-day period under Section 18, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution,” Duterte said in his letter.
“For this reason and because public safety requires it, I call upon the Congress to extend until 31st of December 2017 or for such a period of time Congress may determine the proclamation of martial law and the suspension for the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao,” he added.
Under the Constitution, the President may declare martial law for a period not exceeding 60 days in case of invasion or rebellion, and when public safety requires it.
The Constitution also states that “upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.”
Lagman hits Supreme Court
An opposition lawmaker, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, and his co-petitioners on Friday filed a motion asking the Supreme Court to reconsider its July 4 ruling that declared Proclamation 216 constitutional.
Lagman, in a 54-page motion for reconsideration, “charged the Supreme Court with abdicating its special jurisdiction to fully review the factual sufficiency of Proclamation No. 216…”
He said that the ruling weakened the court’s power of judicial review by, among others, granting an allegedly excessive leeway for the President’s exercise of emergency powers.
Lagman, along with Akbayan Party-list Rep. Tomas Villarin, Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, Capiz Rep. Emmanuel Billones, and Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat Jr., challenged the facts presented in Proclamation 216.
The petitioners maintained there was no rebellion in Marawi City and the rest of Mindanao when President Duterte declared martial law.
Lagman told the court the “appalling escalation of deaths of soldiers and terrorists, including innocent civilians; massive destruction of both public and private properties; and the widespread displacement of residents, many of whom have died in cramped and unsanitary makeshift evacuation centers, are the horrific aftermath of the declaration of martial law, which were not the prevailing conditions at the time Proclamation 216 was issued on May 23, 2017.”
“This tragic aftermath could have been avoided had martial law not been declared. The improvident and unconstitutional imposition gave the military and police forces the go-signal to inordinately intensify their air strikes and land assaults which resulted to (sic) the wanton devastation of Marawi City and a looming humanitarian crisis,” he added.
Government lawyers however are confident the ruling will not be reversed.
Solicitor General Jose Calida said the overwhelming majority of the justices of the high court had spoken in favor of martial law in Mindanao.
“With the supermajority votes of the justices declaring Proclamation 216 as constitutional, meaning, there is sufficient factual basis for the imposition of martial law in Mindanao, my fearless forecast is that petitioners have two chances: nil and none,” Calida said.
with REINA C. TOLENTINO AND JOMAR CANLAS