Palace: Martial law unlikely

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Although public safety is in “imminent danger” due to the growing drug menace, President Duterte is unlikely to declare martial law to deal with the problem or allow a constitutional crisis to occur, Malacañang officials said yesterday.

“The Constitution says the President can declare martial law, not only in case of invasion or rebellion, but also when public safety requires it. Right now, the safety of the public is in imminent danger. But I don’t think the President will do that,” chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo told reporters.

He said Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno may have “misconstrued” Duterte’s message in making public last Sunday a list of judges, mayors and police officers suspected of drug links. 

Communications Secretary Martin Andanar also allayed fears the President was setting the stage for martial law.

“The President merely asked a rhetorical question and said it under the context that his anti-drug campaign cannot wait for the slow wheels of justice – Philippine style,” Andanar said yesterday.

The President’s shame campaign has drawn flak from various quarters.

Duterte reiterated his displeasure at Sereno’s position in a speech – delivered in the Visayan dialect – before soldiers in Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur yesterday afternoon.

“Di nakuha ni CJ Sereno eh (Sereno didn’t get it),” he said, referring to the message he wanted to impart in his vicious anti-drug campaign.

“Well, I think Chief Justice Sereno has misconstrued the statement as well as the announcement of President Duterte when he mentioned the list in public. I think also that the Chief Justice mis-appreciated the magnitude of the drug problem that has risen to crisis proportions, that under the Constitution... the President may declare martial law when the public safety requires,” Panelo said.

“Now, almost everyone is in agreement that public safety is in danger. The imminence of the danger is apparent that the President has to move and act swiftly and out of the box,” he added.

He stressed Duterte’s shame campaign is necessary to stop the operations of drug syndicates.

“The effect of the announcement immediately put a stop to all operations of drugs, because having been named as either coddlers, protectors or pushers, drug lords, this early, the people involved, if they are so involved as the intelligence reports say, would then stop operations,” he pointed out.

He scoffed at suggestions the administration had a hand or was tolerating the killing of suspected drug dealers.

“First, no one is justifying the killings. First, the killings are being done by the drug pushers themselves. And therefore, these surrenderees would necessarily point to the authorities who the drug lords and the drug pushers are. It ends up with their killing each other,” he said.

Panelo said reports from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) listed around two million drug addicts in the country.

“Second, I don’t think the danger is imagined. Two years ago, the PDEA is already telling us that two million have been addicted to drugs. But that was already two or three years ago. And at the rate the surrenderees are coming in, I think there will be millions of them,” Panelo pointed out.

Asked what could compel the President to declare martial rule, Panelo said, “he will do that only when he is forced to.” He said the President would never allow a constitutional crisis to happen under his watch.

Under Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution, the President as commander-in-chief of all armed forces of the Philippines may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion.

“In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding 60 days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law,” the Constitution read.

Independent branches

Andanar, for his part, emphasized President Duterte respects the independence of the judiciary and legislative departments of government.

“He recognizes the separation of powers, and even asked the Chief Justice not to create a constitutional crisis.”

Speaking to troops at Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro last Tuesday, Duterte lashed out at Sereno for what he perceived was her intervening in his anti-drug campaign.

After some judges were linked by Duterte to the drug trade, Sereno advised them not to surrender if no warrant is issued for their arrest.

In the ongoing anti-drug war, Andanar noted that Duterte has only tapped his executive powers.

Andanar explained the President is careful about undermining any institution in the government and that he is equally concerned about extrajudicial killings.

“The President has made use of executive powers at his disposal, knowing fully well the limits of these powers, and without undermining the constitutional separation of powers nor infringing upon the rights of citizens,” he said.

Andanar said the public should understand the need for urgent action against illegal drugs.

“He is working very hard to deal with the drug menace head-on, by removing fear from among the civilians and bringing it back to the hearts of drug protectors, criminals and corrupt officials,” the secretary said.

“We have an action man for a President who believes justice delayed is justice denied. He is the type who, at the onset of his presidency, simply wants to hit the ground running and rid society of drugs, crime and corruption with urgency,” he added.

Andanar stressed the President is a member of the Bar who believes in the rule of law and advocates judicial independence.

“As President, he has the sworn duty to uphold and defend the Constitution. The words and action of the President all point to these,” he added.

“When the President referred the named judges on his consolidated list to the Supreme Court, he was acknowledging the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court over the judges,” he pointed out.

Not serious

Congress’ approval is needed before President Duterte or any chief executive can declare martial law, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said, as he downplayed the President’s supposed threat to place the country under military rule to ensure an unhampered anti-drug campaign.

Lacson said Duterte’s threat to declare martial law should be treated as nothing more than an empty threat.

“His bullheadedness is epic. By now, we should already be familiar with his antics, especially when making spontaneous statements or announcements to media,” the senator said.

In many of his speaking engagements, the President has generated a lot of controversy with his foul language.

“Having said that, it may be safe to assume that the martial law threat is just that and nothing more,” Lacson said.

“Besides, under the 1987 Constitution, declaring martial law is time bound and no longer the sole decision of the chief executive,” he added.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan also expressed belief the President was only joking when he made the remarks about declaring martial law.

“The President may be joking because an order to disobey a legal order or a decision of the Supreme Court is against the Constitution,” Pangilinan said.

“Instead of this word war between the two branches of government and in response to the spate of extrajudicial killings, we should focus on working together to coordinate efforts at modernizing our judiciary and system of justice,” he said.

“The Philippine justice system is antiquated and crying out for reforms. The current situation of extrajudicial killings is really an indictment of the justice system of our country – slow and unresponsive up to a certain degree,” he maintained.

“Word war is not good for our constitutional democracy,” he said. Sereno has chosen not to comment on Duterte’s tirade.

Other senators also said critics should not take the President’s martial law comment literally, even as they cautioned him to be careful in making controversial statements on sensitive issues.

“I don’t think people should be alarmed because when you say we might have martial law in the Philippines, there are effects in the market; there are effects on investors’ decisions. So I think we should not overplay what I think was not meant seriously,” Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon, apparently referring to Duterte, said: “Let’s go slow in our statements. Let not anger get the better of us.”

He appealed for a more rational debate on the issue regarding the government’s aggressive campaign against drugs.

“Let us debate with facts and reason. There is no argument that cannot be solved by rational debate. Let reason and civility govern the exchanges of opinions on issues,” Drilon said.


For Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, Duterte’s threat to declare martial law “must be taken seriously as it is alarming.” 

“Such pronouncement, although off-the-cuff, is gravely disturbing in the context of two relevant current events. First, the predisposition of President Duterte to bury the remains of the late president Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani is reflective of his mindset of honoring the deposed dictator who declared marital law and masterminded a power grab which lasted 14 ignominious years,” he said.

He added the second factor that people should take into account is Duterte’s control of Congress.

“With super majorities in Congress, the revocation of a martial law declaration is farfetched and the extension of its duration is a certainty,” he stressed.

Under the Constitution, the President, within 48 hours from imposing martial rule or suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, is required to submit a report in person or in writing to Congress.

The Charter provides: “The Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President.”

Another congressman, Harry Roque of party-list group Kabayan, warned Duterte that he could face charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC) “for the continuing spate of extrajudicial killings related to the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.”

“So long as the ICC believes the war on drugs is widespread and systematic, they are likely to investigate. From what we can see today, it is clear that the civilian population is being attacked – news reports all around us overwhelmingly establish that hundreds of Filipinos have been killed either directly by government forces or with their support or tolerance,” he said.

“By definition, crimes against humanity may be committed even in times of peace, without the existence of an armed conflict,” he said.

He added that the principle of state immunity granted to a sitting president “is not an effective shield against the ICC.” 

Meanwhile, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo yesterday said the spate of extrajudicial killings is reminiscent of martial law and the only difference is the killings now are reported and tabulated by the media.

“During martial law there was a law that clipped the freedom of the people, that’s why we didn’t know what was happening,” he said.

Pabillo also believes that the killings now are worse as they are committed openly in total disregard of the law.

“This is not like before where people are not being killed outright. They were captured and then tortured,” he recalled.

Pabillo celebrated a mass for the victims of extrajudicial killings in the country and their families at the Baclaran Church in Parañaque City. – With Marvin Sy, Paolo Romero, Edu Punay, Jess Diaz

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