SC: Martial law in Mindanao constitutional

MANILA-- The Supreme Court (SC) ruled that President Rodrigo Duterte's proclamation of martial law in Mindanao is constitutional.

In an 82-page decision released late Wednesday, 11 of the high court's 15 magistrates voted to dismiss the petitions led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman stating that there was no rebellion but only acts of terrorism and mere imminent danger, which would not suffice to meet the requirements for martial law declaration under Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution.

The ruling was penned by Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo while 10 others justices concurred, including Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo - De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Jose Mendoza, Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas - Bernabe, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires and Noel Tijam - and all submitted their concurring opinions.

The Court found that there was sufficient factual basis for the declaration of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus over the whole of Mindanao, read the decision which was released in line with the 30-day deadline for the SC to resolve the petitions filed last June 5.

The entirety of Proclamation No. 216 and the Report submitted to Congress suffice to show that there was an armed public uprising, the culpable purpose of which was to remove from the allegiance of the Philippine Government a portion of its territory and to deprive the Chief Executive of any of his powers and prerogatives. This led the President to believe that there was probable cause for the crime of rebellion and that public safety required the imposition of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, it added.

The SC also dismissed the argument of petitioners that the martial law declaration should be voided because President Duterte supposedly did not consult defense and military officials in issuing the proclamation.

It stressed that only the President has the vital intelligence and classified information that cloaks him with the power to decide whether to impose martial rule or not.

"The President's duty to maintain peace and public safety is not limited only to the place where there is actual rebellion; it extends to other areas where the present hostilities are in danger of spilling over," the SC explained.

The high tribunal also did not buy the argument of petitioners that the armed conflict with Maute was government-initiated and merely an "armed resistance by the Maute Group to shield terrorist Isnilon Hapilon from capture," saying such claim was based on unverified news articles.

Instead, the SC agreed with the argument of Solicitor General Jose Calida that the elements of rebellion - raising arms againat the government and culpable purpose of removing allegiance from the government - were present in Mindanao.

In discharging its review power, the Court's power is limited to determining whether the President in declaring martial law or suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus had sufficient factual basis. The question to be answered would be if the President had acted within the bounds of the Constitution, i.e., whether the facts in his possession prior to and at the time of the declaration or suspension are suffidient for him to declare martial law or suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

The Court stated that in its determination of the sufficiency of the factual basis for the declaration and/or suspension, it should look into the full complement or totality of the factual basis, and not piecemeal or individual justifications.

The Court should also not expect absolute correctness of the facts stated in the proclamation and in the President's Written Report as the President cannot be expected to verify the accuracy and veracity of all facts reported to him due to the urgency of the situation. To require precision in the President's appreciation of facts would unduly burden him and therefore impede the process of decision making.

The Court noted that the sufficiency of the factual basis should not be affected if subsequent events show that the situation had not been accurately reported to the President since the Court's review is limited to sufficiency, not accuracy, of the factual basis.

It also ruled that the parameters for determining the sufficiency of the factual basis for the proclamation and/or suspension are as follows: (1) the concurrence of (a) actual rebellion or invasion, and (b) the necessity to public safety of the proclamation and/or suspension; and (2) there is probable cause for the President to believe that there is actual rebellion or invasion.

Meanwhile, three Justices voted that martial law should only cover Marawi City and nearby areas.

They were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa says sufficient factual basis for martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in three provinces only: Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and Sulu while Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio says sufficient factual basis only for Marawi City.

Sereno said martial law should only cover the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Sulu.

She disagreed with the majority opinion that the discretion on the coverage of the martial law should be left to the President as it is an executive duty.

"Martial law is an extraordinary measure necessitating the exercise of extraordinary power. Nevertheless, the President, in the exercise of his commander-in-chief powers, does not have unbridled discretion as to when, where and how martial law is to be declared," Sereno said in her 51-page dissenting opinion.

Only Associate Justice Marvic Leonen voted to grant the consolidated petitions filed by opposition lawmakers led by Lagman, local Mindanao leaders led by Lumad leader Eufemia Campos Cullamat and a group of women from Marawi led by Norkaya Mohamad, challenged the legality of Duterte's Proclamation No. 216 imposing a military rule and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao after terrorists occupied Marawi City on May 23.

In his 92-page dissenting opinion, Leonen said that the government failed to justify the necessity for declaration of martial law and why other powers of the President - including the power to call out the military - would not suffice to address the problem in Mindanao.

Leonen said the situation in Mindanao involves only "acts of terrorism which should be addressed in a decisive but more precise manner."

President Duterte issued Proclamation No. 216 on May 23 declaring a state of martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao. This was a result of the attack of the Maute group in Marawi City, which is still ongoing and is subject to military operations.

Two other petitions were filed by separate groups led by former Senators Rene Saguisag and Wigberto TaAada both seeking issuance of a mandamus that would compel Senate and the House of Representatives to convene jointly to review the declaration. The SC has yet to act on these petitions.

Last June 8, the SC consolidated the two mandamus petitions asking the high court to order the Senate and the House of Representatives to convene in joint session and vote jointly on President Duterte's Proclamation 216 declaring martial law and suspending the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao.

Source: Philippines News Agency