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Solons question 'inordinately' long extension of martial law

Opposition lawmakers, in a fresh petition filed before the Supreme Court, ask: "How can a mere extension be inordinately longer than the original proclamation sought to be extended?" AP/Bullit Marquez, file

MANILA, Philippines — Opposition lawmakers have before the Supreme Court the "inordinate" length of the extension of President Rodrigo Duterte's martial law in Mindanao as unconstitutional.

The extension is 876.67 percent longer than the original martial law period, Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay) of the House's "Magnificent Seven" opposition bloc said. "This is inordinately long," Lagman, whose labor leader brother Hermon disappeared during Ferdinand Marcos' martial law in 1977, said.

"How can a mere extension be inordinately longer than the original proclamation sought to be extended?" they added.

On Wednesday, the opposition solons asked the SC to declare Duterte's year-long martial law extension in Mindanao "null and unconstitutional." They also asked the high court to issue a halt order on the extension that also suspends the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao for another year.

The suspension of the writ allows warrantless arrests.

The writ itself is an order for authorities to present an arrested person before the court and to explain the circumstances of detention. It is meant to protect citizens from unlawful arrests and indefinite detentions.

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READ: Duterte's martial law extension challenged before SC

On May 23, Duterte imposed martial law in Mindanao after the Islamic City of Marawi was stormed by heavily-armed extremists who pledged allegiance to ISIS.

In July, Congress overwhelmingly voted to prolong military rule in Mindanao until yearend after the proclamation reached its 60-day constitutional limit. They said it was to give Duterte more time to stabilize the strife-torn region where ISIS was gaining influence.

The president declared the liberation of Marawi in October, after five months of battle. But on December 11, Duterte asked Congress to extend military rule in the southern region for another year.

'Constitution does not allow re-extension'

The lawmakers, in their plea before the SC, stressed that the 1987 Constitution, crafted after the martial law rule of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, contains safeguards against abuse of power.

"Unlike in the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions when the respective durations of the martial law and the suspension of the writ were limitless, the 1987 Constitution mandates that the period of martial law and suspension of the writ shall not exceed 60 days," the lawmakers pointed out.

"It stands to reason that any authorized extension must be similarly limited in duration," the petition read. They added that the language of the Constitution held that an extension may only be allowed "in the same manner" of duration of the first declaration that is 60 days.

Lagman, in brief debates at the joint session of Congress on December 13, raised the same argument. He told his colleagues: "Reading the Constitution, I submit, that there is no justification for a series of extensions. This would be against the intent of Constitution for a limited duration of martial law and its extension."

Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who sat among the resource speakers for the session, replied that "there is no basis for the legal argument that any extension should be the same as 60 days."

Guevarra added that Duterte's first extension was not challenged before the Supreme Court.

It took less than half a day for the two houses, voting 240-27, to swiftly approve Duterte's request for another extension on December 13.

But the lawmakers, in their fresh petition, pointed out: "A strict construction of the power of the Congress to extend martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus upon the initiative of the President requires that an extended period cannot be anymore extended."

"Otherwise, the intention and mandate of the Constitution limiting the period of martial law and the suspension of the writ and the extension thereof would be breached," the petition further read.

Others who signed as petitioners were Reps. Tomasito Villarin (Akbayan Citizens' Action party-list), Edgar Erice (Caloocan City, 2nd District), Teddy Baguilat Jr. (Ifugao), Gary Alejano (Magdalo party-list) and Emmanuel Billones (Capiz, 1st District).

The Constitution require the SC to issue a decision on any petition on martial law within 60 days from filing.

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