Given time to reflect soberly and calmly, the government should take a deep breath and proceed to write a clear and precise presidential proclamation that will tell the nation that “a state of lawlessness” exists throughout the country.
President Duterte was so fast on the draw, he proclaimed “a state of lawlessness” before the text of a formal proclamation could be issued. He acted so swiftly, Palace communicators were left gasping and issued conflicting statements.
The President, who was in Davao City at the time of the blast, initially sought to make the declaration cover only Davao City, but then expanded it to cover the entire Mindanao, before finally deciding to cover the entire country – all within a few hours after the attack.
Conseqently, the public was in confusion as to how precisely to interpret the President’s move to invoke his power to call out the nation‘s armed forces to stop lawless violence.
As provided by the Constitution, the President is given full discretion and wide latitude in the exercise of this power.
Based on the Constitution, a “state of lawlessness” is the first extra power that the President can use, followed by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, which allows the state to arrest and jail anyone without trial, followed by a declaration of a state of emergency, and finally by a declaration of Martial Law. All these extra powers are calibrated to deal with different levels of threat to the nation. The last time a state of lawlessness was declared in the country was by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo back in 2003, following a bombing attack also in Davao City whose city mayor then was Rodrigo Duterte.
In a briefing at the site where the explosion happened, the President said: “I am declaring a state of lawless violence in this country.”
“It’s not Martial Law but I am inviting now the Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP], the military and the police to run the country in accordance with my specifications.”
“Any punitive action that will be taken by the security forces will be in a bid to stop terrorism. I am including drugs because of the many killings unfairly attributed to the police.”
Malacañang, through Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella, said that President Duterte’s declaration is under the bounds of the law, citing Article VII Section 18 of the Constitution, which states: “The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion.”
Most legal experts do not see anything unnatural in the Commander-in-Chief’s declaration of a state of lawlessness.
San Beda College-Graduate School of Law Dean Fr. Ranhilio Aquino said that President Duterte was only stressing a need for nationwide vigilance and for security forces to double the urgency of carrying out tasks.
Senate minority leader Ralph Recto emphasized that to set the parameters of the presidential proclamation, the President must formalize it.
“The President must explain and elaborate in writing his verbal statement placing the whole country under a state of lawlessness,” Recto said.
“A written order will prescribe the specifics and the limits of such declaration, and would result in the clearer enumeration of the activities permitted and prohibited, if any, during the period,” he said.
He is right. A written proclamation will guide the military and police authorities on the strict parameters they must follow in issuing and implementing orders.
Philippine National Police Chief Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa said “the incident is confined only within Davao City.”
“Let me emphasize that this is not a crisis situation— we are too far from such point of being unable to help ourselves.” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana instructed the AFP to increase their presence in major cities throughout the country.
“I have directed all commands of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to be on high alert especially in urban centers for possible other terroristic act attempts,” Lorenzana said.
All these actions are in accord with the situation that must be faced. They show the requisite decisiveness that should characterize government response.
Absent the confusion of some Palace officials, the nation is assured that it has a government that is in full charge and knows exactly what to do.