In the midst of controversy over whether Martial Law could once again prevail in this country, it would be worth revisiting our Charter.
Our law of the land states explicitly in Section 18, article VII: “A state of Martial Law does not suspend the operation of the Constitution nor supplant the function 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, or automatically suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.”
This is not all. The section also spells out the precise conditions for a Martial Law proclamation to be valid, and for its challenge.
“Whenever it becomes necessary, [the President]may call the armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. In case of invasion or rebellion when the public safety requires it, he may for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under Martial Law.
Within forty-eight hours from the proclamation of Martial Law or the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the President shall submit a report in person and in writing to Congress. The Congress voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its members in regular or special session, may revoke the proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President.”
Further, the Charter provides: “The Supreme Court may review, in an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen, the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of Martial Law or the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, or the extension thereof, and must promulgate its decision therein within thirty days of its filing.”
From these passages, it is crystal clear: there are only two grounds for the proclamation of Martial Law and the suspension of the writ: (1) invasion; and (2) rebellion.
In either of such instances, says Constitutional Commission member Jose Nolledo in his book on the 1987 Constitution, there may be no need to declare Martial Law or suspend the writ.
There must be actual invasion and rebellion to justify such declaration or suspension.
When the 50 members of the Constitutional Commission sat down to deliberate on and draft the 1987 Constitution, one of their supervening objectives was to inoculate the Filipino nation from authoritarian rule. Accordingly, they laid down strict conditions for the declaration of Martial Law and suspension of the writ. They set a process of review by Congress and the Supreme Court of the Martial Law proclamation, and the President was enjoined to defend his acts in person or in writing.
In the President’s oath of office, it is expressly stated that “he must preserve and defend the Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate himself to the service of the nation.”
In sum, Martial Law will not free the President from the legal strictures of the law of the land. On the contrary, it will force him even more to honor and respect the Charter.