The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday gave assurances that there is nothing to fear about the declaration of martial law in Mindanao by President Rodrigo Duterte.
“So with all the safeguards, I don’t know why we are so worried,” SC Justice Mariano del Castillo said during the first day of oral arguments on a petition against the imposition of military rule in the region.
Del Castillo added that the 1987 Constitution is an “anti-martial law Constitution” that would “ensure that there is no repeat of abuses” committed by former President Ferdinand Marcos when he also declared martial law in 1972.
Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay, a petitioner, expressed fear that violations of human rights and civil liberties reminiscent of Marcos’ military rule would not be stopped by the High Court.
“The repetition of such excesses is ominous in the wake of President Duterte’s statement that the martial law of Marcos was ‘very good’ and he would replicate it with equal harshness,” Lagman said.
During the oral arguments, del Castillo asked Lagman if he had been to Marawi City since the crisis erupted in the capital of Lanao del Sur, to which Lagman answered in the negative.
He said the petitioners cannot say martial law is not needed if they have not seen and experienced it.
“So it would be too difficult to say that the situation there does not amount to rebellion. You’ve not been there, you’re not on the ground, you don’t know the situation there. How can you dispute now the findings of sufficiency of factual bases for the declaration?” del Castillo added.
According to Lagman, the petitioners need not be in Marawi City before, during or after the declaration. The assessment whether there is sufficient factual bases for the proclamation is the presidential declaration itself and his report to Congress.
Del Castillo, however, said, “The President’s factual bases in placing the entire southern Philippine region under martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus may have been brought about by his access to information not privy to everyone, not even to members of Congress.”
Lagman countered that “the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] has the capability to suppress this terrorism in Marawi City without the President imposing martial law” in Mindanao.
He said confronting and defeating terrorists does not need the imposition of military rule because there is no actual invasion or rebellion when the public safety requires such imposition or suspension.
He slammed Duterte’s report to Congress, which Lagman said contains lies and falsities.
Also during the first day of oral arguments, SC Justice Antonio Carpio asked Lagman if there is actual rebellion in other areas in Mindanao, to which the lawmaker answered also in the negative.
Carpio pointed out that the 1987 Constitution clearly states there must be an actual rebellion for martial law to be declared.
SC Justices Lucas Bersamin and Estela Perlas-Bernabe said the declaration of martial law in Mindanao can be given the presumption of validity since the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
After the oral arguments, Solicitor General Jose Calida told reporters that “[all]the elements of rebellion are present (in Marawi City)–public uprising, allegiance to IS (of members of the Maute Group)],” referring to the Islamic State.
Calida said this “IS-inspired local rebel group has taken up arms against the Philippine government for the purpose of removing Mindanao… and depriving the Chief Executive of his prerogatives…as Commander-in-Chief.”
The oral arguments will continue on Wednesday and end on Thursday.