THE vote in the Supreme Court was not even close. The 15 justices voted 11-3-1 to uphold the constitutionality of Proclamation 216, which declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23. Eleven justices voted to dismiss the three petitions against the proclamation; three justices voted to limit martial law to Marawi City; and one lone justice agreed with the petitions that 216 has no factual basis.
With a verdict this decisive, you would expect the losing side to beat a retreat to the sidelines (where they can lick their wounds); but the losers are determined to continue the argument.
With no little cunning, the losing petitioners are trying to salvage some form of moral victory in the lost debate. They want attention directed to the dissenting opinions in the court verdict. They issue fearful alarms that President Duterte might seize upon the SC decision to impose martial law on the entire country. One sympathizer, Sen. Risa Hontiveros, hysterically declared that the high court made martial law the “silver bullet for a false peace.”
We wallow in these lengthy arguments because the media, the Times included, has a secret soft spot for a losing cause and losing advocate. We encourage them not to give up.
Emasculation of martial-law power
We can expect the petitioners to appeal the SC decision, even if the decisive verdict overwhelmingly points to a denial. And the minority will persist in the fight against policy, even if the Maute is routed, because it half- expects the fences erected by the Charter-makers around martial law to defeat the policy.
The arguments over 216 have unraveled the emasculation of the President’s martial-law powers by the Cory-appointed Constitutional Commission, which inexplicably was more concerned about protecting her power than about ensuring the security and survival of the state. They worried more about Marcos and martial law 1972, than about future emergencies that could face the nation.
It would have been more enlightening had the high court faced this issue squarely during the recent proceedings.
Martial law is nowhere mentioned in the US Constitution; but the power of the US President and Congress to act in order to meet an emergency is beyond dispute. In a time of clear and present danger, US constitutionalists say, “liberty is not obliged to commit suicide.” Lincoln did not think so when he suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the US civil war.
New rules for martial law
Martial law is explicitly addressed in our 1987 Constitution, but the framers took care to set new rules on the declaration of martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. These rules are:
1. The President may call out all the armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. In either of these instances, there may be no need for martial law. Only when the public safety requires it, may the President declare martial law or order the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
2. The declaration of martial law and the suspension of the writ shall be good only for 60 days. Within 48 hours of such suspension or declaration, the President shall submit a report to the Congress, and the latter, voting jointly, may revoke such proclamation or suspension.
3. Any Filipino citizen may file an appropriate petition with the Supreme Court, asking it to review the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. The high court is mandated to promulgate its decision within 30 days from the filing of the petition.
4. The Constitution provides further that a state of martial law does not suspend the operation of the Charter. Martial law does not supplant the functioning of the civil courts or legislative assembly.
All these provisions were scrupulously observed in the recent proceedings of the SC. No sentence was left unsung by the lawyers.
Liberation of Marawi
The disputation will dissipate when government forces turn their full attention to completing the liberation of Marawi and to securing all of Mindanao.
The lawyers and politicians will fade into the background when the work turns to reclaiming foot by foot the areas occupied by the terrorists, and rebuilding stone by stone the devastated sections of Marawi.
The lawyers can learn something if they spent time to review why government won the argument and why they lost the argument. A dissenting opinion by one associate justice is not a spur to fight government; it is an indicator of defeat.
Sooner or later, losing lawyers must listen to what the winning lawyers said in the oral arguments, which will explain why they are probably better lawyers.
The liberation of Marawi is going to be an arduous challenge. As I have already written, it will follow the pattern set by Mosul and Raqqa.
Today, the Islamic State is fighting fiercely in their shrinking Iraqi and Syrian strongholds. We should expect the same in Marawi.
Iraqi commanders have predicted final victory in Mosul this week after a grinding eight-month assault on the once two-million-strong city pushed IS into a rectangle no more than 300 by 500 meters beside the Tigris river.
In Raqqa, Islamic State’s headquarters in northern Syria from where it plotted attacks around the world, US-backed militia are fighting inside the historic Old City after coalition air strikes breached its walls in two places.
People who can’t see the danger
Victory over the hardline militants in both cities will mark the effective end of the three-year-old caliphate.
But their centers are a maze of narrow alleyways packed with civilians and planted with multiple explosive devices by the militants, who are also using drones and suicide bombings.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Mosul and Raqqa, which have been devastated by the fighting, creating massive challenges of rebuilding.
The story in Marawi has been similar. The militants continue to fight fiercely, using civilians as shields and employing explosive devices.
But now the news from the front is good for government forces. A major stronghold has just been taken from the Maute group. And more foreign fighters have turned up among the dead.
Was this country really in debate over whether President Duterte was right to call on the armed forces to repel the siege of Marawi and root out the Islamic State-inspired Maute rebels?
Do we really have compatriots who do not see the danger?