SENATE President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd isn’t perturbed by President Rodrigo Duterte seeking the removal of the provision in the Constitution that requires permission from Congress before imposing martial law.
Pimentel even said he was open to discussing the provision once Congress convenes into a Constituent Assembly to change the 1987 Philippine Constitution.
Duterte, in remarks on Thursday in Angeles City, said he wanted to amend the Constitution and remove the provision that requires the President to get the approval of Congress and the Supreme Court before imposing martial law.
He said the provision was a “reckless reaction” to President Ferdinand Marcos’ strongman rule.
Section 18 Article VII of the 1987 Constitution states that the President “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.”
The President must then submit a report to Congress two days after the declaration. By a vote of at least a majority of all its members in regular or special session, Congress may revoke such proclamation or suspension.
Pimentel said what the President uttered was not new and there was nothing shocking about it, because that was the rule before the 1987 Constitution was crafted.
“So we need to think about it and talk about it because that provision was included because of the experience of the country in the past,” the Senate president explained.
Asked if he sees as valid concerns that Duterte might become a dictator in the event restrictions in the Constitution are removed, Pimentel said: “The President is just really hard on crime especially on illegal drugs, that is his reputation and he is being consistent with himself.”
The Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments headed by Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon has started hearings and most of those who had attended the proceedings agreed on the need to revisit the 1987 Constitution.
Drilon’s committee is planning to conduct a series of hearings in different parts of the country to get the views of the people on Charter change and whether it should be through a Constitutional Convention with elected delegates or Congress directly proposing amendments by convening as a Constituent Assembly.
Some lawmakers were unwilling to give up their power to review any declaration of martial law.
Representatives Teodoro Baguilat of Ifugao, Edcel Lagman of Albay and Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol party-list made the stance in reaction to the President’s statements.
“The President’s pronouncements betray his intentions [in amending the Constitution]by moving towards constitutional dictatorship by removing checks,” Baguilat said.
Lagman said it would be dangerous to proceed in amending the Constitution either by Constituent Assembly or Constitutional Convention “when we have a President who wants the legitimation of dictatorial powers.”
“All initiatives to amend the Constitution must be consigned to the backburner to assure that the dismantling of congressional and judicial safeguards on the presidential declaration of martial law will not be realized,” Lagman said.
Lagman argued that the power of Congress to revoke a presidential declaration of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus as well as the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to review the factual basis of such declarations were mandated in the 1987 Constitution to prevent the curtailment of civil and political rights in cases of abuse, such as the imposition of martial law without time limit.
“President Duterte’s unequivocal pronouncement for a return to a president’s absolute and sole authority to declare martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus betrays his authoritarian designs which must never be constitutionalized,” Lagman said.
Batocabe said the existing Constitutional restrictions “provide safeguards to prevent dangers and abuses as shown by our martial law experience.”