LAWMAKERS on Sunday reacted with alarm to the threat of President Rodrigo Duterte that he may suspend the writ of habeas corpus not only to stop rebellion in Mindanao, but also to strengthen the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.
Senators belonging to the Liberal Party (LP) issued a joint statement maintaining that there is no reason for the President to allow warrantless arrests.
The group, headed by Sen. Francis Pangilinan, said the illegal drug problem is not a ground to suspend the writ.
As for rebellion, the senators noted that the administration is already talking peace with all armed groups except the Abu Sayyaf.
“We see no basis for the suspension of the Filipinos’ privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and we shall remain committed to upholding the sacred constitutional safeguards to the rights of the Filipino people,” they said.
Section 15 of the Bill of Rights provides: “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended except in cases of invasion or rebellion when the public safety requires it.”
Members of the LP in the Senate include Senate president pro-tempore Franklin Drilon and senators Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th and Leila de Lima.
In a separate statement, de Lima called on the President to stop toying with the idea of suspending the writ of habeas corpus in his attempt to supposedly legitimize his administration’s flawed war against illegal drugs.
“The President has spent a lot of time talking about his sheer determination to stop illegal drugs in the country for the rest of his term. However, if he could just spend more time talking with the families of the victims, he’d understand what is fundamentally and dreadfully wrong with his war on drugs and why the planned suspension of the writ of habeas corpus sends dangerous message to the public,” she said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, wanted to know if the declaration of a “State of Emergency on Account of Lawless Violence in Mindanao” in September was a prelude to the President’s plan to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.
“Was the state of emergency declared in preparation for the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus? Although there is no provision that you need go through first a state of emergency before declaring suspension of the writ or even martial law,” Lacson said in a radio interview.
The senator added that the President’s pronouncement may be part of his “psywar” but the public may see it as “creeping martial law.”
He said suspending the writ of habeas corpus will not speak well of the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) anti-illegal drug operations.
“It doesn’t speak well of the efforts of the PNP to curb criminality. They will be contradicting their own statement,” the senator added.
Shades of martial law
Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay also criticized the President’s pronouncements, saying the threat of suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is reminiscent of martial law.
“There are no legal and factual bases for the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. The deadly campaign against drug traffickers and narcotic abuse is not a ground for suspension. With the growing culture of violence and killings, the suspension of the writ may further embolden the police to summarily execute suspects or cause their involuntary disappearance,” Lagman, a lawyer, said in a statement.
“Besides, the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus will only be a farce because the carcass of victims of extrajudicial killings may not be brought anyway before the courts even without the suspension since the privilege of the writ demands the judicial presentation of the live bodies,” he added.
A ranking military official also on Sunday urged Malacanang to clarify the President’s statements, saying such pronouncement tends to cause panic.
“That is already a policy statement. The Palace should clarify that because it is a big issue, something that will cause panic. This is because it is already about suspending [the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus],” the military official who requested anonymity said.
While agreeing that empowering state security forces to conduct warrantless arrests may help the government’s campaign against terrorism and illegal drugs, the military official added that it may not help in prosecuting cases against suspects.
“[Suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus] may not outrightly solve the problem because what you can only do is arrest. After arrest is prosecution. So even if the arrest is warranted, if we can’t prosecute, it’s nothing,” the official explained.
He said the basis of the issuance of a warrant of arrest is the existence of probable cause that does not determine the guilt or innocence of a person.
“When you say probable cause, it only means that the person is probably guilty of the offense being charged and he has to be held behind bars to be able or in order to face proceedings when the court needs him. Many were arrested by virtue of warrantless arrests but were later acquitted because the prosecution failed to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” the official added.
But Malacanang officials said the enormity of the drug problem would prompt the President to order the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
“If you have 10,000 people involved in the drug menace, you have to file cases against them, secure warrants of arrest and search warrants. You will have a problem with that because that [securing of warrants]will take you eternity. The remedy there is to suspend the writ of habeas corpus so that you will not be restrained or chained by judicial proceedings,” Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said in a television interview.
“There have been news reports that drug money is being used to finance rebellion in Mindanao, as well as the terrorism by Abu Sayyaf. So in cases of invasion or rebellion, the President, under the Constitution, can seek the suspension of writ of habeas corpus,” Panelo added.
Palace Communications chief Martin Andanar echoed Panelo’s claims, arguing that the President’s warning was prompted by his concern over the unabated drug problem.
Palace officials earlier claimed that the country has won the first phase of the so-called war against drugs with the surrender of around 700,000 drug suspects. The campaign, however, has left around 4,000 drug suspects killed in its wake, according to watchdogs.
“Our drug problem is widespread. The President has shown a list of persons of interest in connection with this. This is really unresolved at this point. It is not an overnight campaign. It is not a campaign that can be done in just six months and the President has already mentioned that,” Andanar said in a radio interview.
“The President asked for an extension for the anti-drug war because this is not easy. This does not mean a failure. It means discovering how worse the problem is. A lot of people are into it, there are people from government who are involved in it beyond our expectations. It’s that simple,” he added.
Panelo, however, insisted that the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus will not be a prelude to martial law.
“The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus [will be sought]if the remedies on the drug menace and criminality won’t suffice. There is no need to declare martial law,” he said.
WITH FERNAN MARASIGAN