Voting 10-5 in session, the justices dismissed for lack of merit the consolidated petitions of former Commission on Elections chairman Christian Monsod, former Commission on Human Rights chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales, a group of congressmen led by Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman and another group led by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao seeking to stop the one-year extension of martial law.
STAR/Miguel de Guzman
Supreme Court upholds 1-year extension of martial law in Mindanao
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - February 7, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has no power to review a decision of Congress, and serious threats to security remain in the south, the SC ruled yesterday as it upheld the one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao.

Voting 10-5 in session, the justices dismissed for lack of merit the consolidated petitions of former Commission on Elections chairman Christian Monsod, former Commission on Human Rights chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales, a group of congressmen led by Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman and another group led by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao seeking to stop  the one-year extension of martial law.

Infographic by Ocampo

Agreeing with the position of Solicitor General Jose Calida, the magistrates held that the SC has no power to review the decision of Congress to grant the request of President Duterte for the one-year extension.

Calida welcomed the ruling while opposition lawmakers said they were not inclined to file an appeal.

“Each House of Congress has full discretionary authority to formulate, adopt and promulgate its own rules; the exercise of this power is generally exempt from judicial supervision and interference,” read the summary of the SC ruling penned by Associate Justice Noel Tijam.

The Court explained that it could only step in once there is clear showing of arbitrary and improvident use of power by Congress under Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution, which it said is lacking in this case.

It also rejected the argument of petitioners that the extension should have only been limited to 60 days, saying the Constitution does not set a limit to the number of times Congress can extend martial law declaration by the President.

The SC likewise ruled that the factual bases for the martial law declaration remain in Mindanao, citing the facts submitted by the Armed Forces during oral arguments last month.

“The rebellion that spawned the Marawi incident persists. Public safety requires the extension, as shown by facts presented by the AFP,” it explained.

The AFP had told the SC that terrorist activities in Mindanao did not end when the government won the war against the Islamic State-linked Maute group in Marawi City in October last year.

It revealed that 48 foreign terrorists had in fact arrived in Mindanao and were actively training recruits. The remaining members of Maute, AFP officials said, intensified their recruitment and their forces again ballooned to almost 400.

“When the President and Congress ascertain whether public safety requires the declaration and extension of martial law, they do so by calibrating not only the present state of public safety but the further repercussions of the actual rebellion to public safety in the future as well,” it pointed out.

“The Constitution’s requirement is met when there is sufficient factual bases to hold that the present and past acts constituting the actual rebellion are of such greater character that endanger and will endanger public safety,” it added.

The high court also ruled that there are safeguards against abuse under martial law implementation under the Constitution as it dismissed as speculative the claims of human rights violations by the military.

The nine justices who concurred in the ruling were Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Samuel Martires, Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo.


“We’re grateful that the Supreme Court decided in favor of the government by a vote of 10-5. This legal victory will usher in the prosperity of Mindanao after the rebellion is quelled,” Calida said in a text message.

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno dissented from the ruling along with Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Francis Jardeleza and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.

On May 23, Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao following Maute’s attack in Marawi City. The SC upheld its legality in a ruling last July, which became final last month.

The initial declaration was supposed to end after 60 days, but Congress, in a joint session on July 22, approved Duterte’s request to extend it until Dec. 31.   

Senators welcomed the Supreme Court ruling, saying it showed the latter’s respect for the prerogative of the executive branch to declare martial law whenever it thinks it is needed.

 “That’s (SC ruling) correct. They (SC) should defer to the ‘political branches’ when it comes to matters like this,” Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III told reporters.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, who voted for the extension of martial law, said the ruling was not surprising.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the committee on public order and dangerous drugs, agreed the matter of declaring and extending martial law is a political issue that is best resolved between the executive and legislative branches of government.

He said the SC even added a third element, which only requires probable cause to be determined by the President to justify martial law.

“At any rate, come to think of it, there are no extra powers given to the implementers of martial law that are beyond the Bill of Rights provision in the Constitution,” Lacson said.

He also cited the absence of validated reports of abuses committed by government troops deployed in Marawi City and nearby areas.

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara also lauded the decision. “We know that this (declaration) complied with the Constitution and this is meant to stop the spread of terrorism in Mindanao,” Angara said.

No more appeal

In a news conference,  Lagman said filing a motion for reconsideration “may be a futile attempt because the Supreme Court is no longer the court of last resort as it has become a court of no resort.”

“The majority of the justices can be supreme even in their error,” he said. “I don’t see any valid reason for the high tribunal to sustain the decision to extend martial law in Mindanao.”

He maintained the latest SC decision would “embolden President Duterte to continue violating the rule of law.”

He noted that of the 10 justices who voted for martial law extension, four are Duterte appointees, while the other four are eyeing the post of Chief Justice Sereno, a target of impeachment of President’s congressmen-allies.

Lagman and his opposition colleagues and other petitioners, including former solicitor general Florin Hilbay, had argued that the only justification for extending martial law is the “existence of actual rebellion” in Mindanao.

They said no such actual rebellion exists and that Duterte and the military had in fact declared the liberation of Marawi City from local and foreign terrorists.

They said the President and state forces could deal with the threats to security without lengthening martial law.

Lagman’s opposition colleague Tom Villarin of Akbayan said with the SC decision, there is no stopping the President from declaring martial law nationwide.

He said the impeachment process in the House against Sereno has apparently “chilled out many of our justices.”

Another opposition congressman, Gary Alejano of Magdalo, said the SC has “abdicated its role in the system of check-and-balance in our democracy.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it was grateful to the SC for its ruling and promised to “faithfully” perform its duty to protect the people.

“The AFP expresses its gratitude to the Supreme Court for allowing us to perform the fresh mandate given to us by the President and by Congress,” said AFP spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo

“We would like to assure our people that your AFP will faithfully perform its duty to protect the people and secure the state respecting Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law,” Arevalo added.

The AFP had stated repeatedly that martial law under the present administration is different from the martial law despised by many during the Marcos dictatorship. – Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero, Michael Punongbayan

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