THE Supreme Court on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to uphold the declaration of martial law in Mindanao to crush Islamic State (IS)-linked terrorists in a decisive legal victory for President Rodrigo Duterte over the opposition.
Eleven justices sided with Duterte, three agreed with martial law within a limited area, and only one dissented during an en banc (full court) session, as predicted by The Manila Times.
In upholding the constitutionality of Duterte’s Proclamation 216 or “Declaring a state of martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao,” the court dismissed all three petitions that questioned the declaration, said Theodore Te, spokesman for the high tribunal.
A Times source said Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo, who drafted the ruling, found “sufficient factual basis” for martial law in Mindanao and “no grave abuse of discretion” on Duterte’s part.
Only Associate Justice Marvic Leonen voted to junk the martial law proclamation.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Benjamin Caguioa voted to partly grant the petitions and limit the territorial coverage of martial law.
All justices wrote separate concurring or dissenting opinions, to be submitted today, Wednesday.
The petitions against martial rule were filed by opposition lawmakers Edcel Lagman, Tomasito Villarin, Gary Alejano, Emmanuel Billones and Teodoro Brawner Baguilat Jr.; activists and militant lawmakers led by ACT Teachers’ party-list, Gabriela Women’s party-list, and Kabataan party-list; and four female Marawi City residents led by Norway Mohamad.
Duterte placed the Mindanao group of islands under martial law on May 23 after terrorists from the Maute group attacked Marawi City following a botched government attempt to capture terrorist leader Isnilon Hapilon.
Hapilon, who is on the United States’ wanted list of terrorists, is said to be the IS emir in Southeast Asia.
Duterte had claimed the Maute wanted to establish an IS province or wilayat in Marawi, the country’s most important Muslim city.
Martial law to be extended?
President Duterte welcomed the court ruling and said he respected those who dissented in part or in whole, as he hinted that military rule could be extended beyond the 60-day limit under the Constitution.
Martial law will stay until the last terrorist is dead, the President told reporters in Bulacan.
“Months before, I was telling you, I’m warning the nation: Do not force my hand into it because if I will declare martial law, tatapusin talaga natin ‘to [we will finish it]. For as long as there is one terrorist in Marawi, [it (martial law) will not stop],” he said.
Duterte pointed out that the terrorism situation in Marawi reached a “critical level.”
The President also recalled the bombings in Davao City and the Zamboanga siege in 2013 by Islamist rebels.
“How would you characterize the situation? Just [a]law and order [situation]? When the schools, when the national high school, with the kids, they planted IEDs (improvised explosive devices)? It’s all over Mindanao. In faraway Sulu, Jolo, they have been decapitating people, kidnapping children, kidnapping an 8-year-old, then killing him. What do you call this? Unless you want to separate Luzon, and even Visayas, out of the jurisdiction of the Republic of the Philippines,” he added.
In a statement, Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella welcomed the ruling and said Duterte would not waver in his commitment to liberate Marawi City and end terrorism.
The Palace official asked for the public’s “full support and cooperation” to flush the terrorists out of Mindanao.
In a separate statement, Duterte’s chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said the high court’s ruling on martial law was not surprising as the President had complied with every constitutional requirement.
Solicitor General Jose Calida, who argued for the government before the court, said: “the monumental decision of the Supreme Court affirming Proclamation 216 underscores the existence of a real and present rebellion that threatens the lives of our fellow Filipinos in Mindanao, and their much-cherished liberties.”
Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo also welcomed the decision, but called on Congress to review the martial law proclamation.
One of the petitioners against martial law, Representative Villarin of Akbayan, claimed Duterte would be emboldened to declare martial rule nationwide on the pretext of fighting drugs syndicates.
“Duterte has earlier tagged the Mautes to be in cahoots with the drug lords. Now that he is cloaked with such authority, President Duterte might push martial law to the limits and declare a drug-induced nationwide rebellion by terror groups,” Villarin said in a statement.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate echoed this, saying: “This may place the country in an even more dangerous position. We could expect an emboldened military and police to commit more human rights violations and further endanger the lives of our people not just in Marawi but the whole of Mindanao.”
Magdalo’s Alejano said he respected the court ruling but added that “placing the entire Mindanao under martial law is difficult to comprehend and justify when the crisis is taking place only in the province of Lanao del Sur.”
For Representatives Harry Roque of Kabayan party-list, Aniceto Bertiz of ACTS-OFW party-list and Karlo Nograles of Davao City, the Supreme Court ruling was a resounding affirmation of the President’s powers under the Constitution.
“In the absence of its ability to discern for itself the factual basis for martial law, the Supreme Court should accord the Executive the presumption of regularity of discharge of function, which in this case it did. Although martial law is not a political question and may be reviewed by the court, the court was right deferring to the judgment of the President,” said Roque.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd said the decision of the high tribunal came as no surprise because the President’s declaration was valid.
“I had no doubts that the President validly, with factual basis, declared martial law,” Pimentel said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson agreed and said there could be no other decision.
“I can only hope that none of our Senate colleagues will call the magistrates lapdogs and cowards of the administration,” he said.
The court’s favorable decision on martial law, according to Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, was a signal for the government to show a united front against terrorism and lawless violence, and also start the urgent work of rebuilding the communities of Marawi City.
Sen. Richard Gordon for his part said the President should use the decision of the high tribunal to fix the situation in Marawi City and Mindanao.
Members of the Senate minority bloc urged the Palace to listen to the three justices who voted to limit the scope of martial law.
“We urge Malacanang to consider the wisdom of the three justices to move to limit martial law to Marawi,” said Sen. Francis Pangilinan, referring to Chief Justice Sereno and Associate Justices Carpio and Caguioa.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the court in effect made martial law the “silver bullet for a false peace.”
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE, LLANESCA T. PANTI AND JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA