Supreme Court votes 9-4 to uphold third martial law extension

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star
Supreme Court votes 9-4 to uphold third martial law extension
Petitioners also reiterated that the Court may review the factual basis of martial law proclamation, which is a task specifically assigned by the Constitution to Congress.
AP / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court (SC) has upheld the legality of the third extension of the martial law declaration in Mindanao.

Voting 9-4 in session yesterday, justices of the high court decided to dismiss four petitions challenging the constitutionality of the extension of Proclamation No. 216 for another year or until December 2019.

In a press conference, new SC spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka said the nine magistrates who voted for the dismissal of the petitions were Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin and Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Andres Reyes Jr., Alexander Gesmundo, Jose Reyes Jr., Ramon Paul Hernando and Rosmari Carandang.

He said Carandang penned the ruling, which was not immediately released pending submission of other opinions of justices.

Hosaka said the four dissenters were Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Francis Jardeleza and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu and Mayor Ramon Piang of the lumad town of Upi in Maguindanao welcomed the martial law extension.

“We have not been seeing politicians bringing with them so many security escorts when they go around since it was first declared in May 2017,” Mangudadatu said.

“From the very start we in Maguindanao have been very supportive of that. We have militant groups in the province that the police and military are trying to address and martial law is one measure that can hasten their security efforts,” he added.

“That is for the good of all so we have to support that ML extension,” Piang said.

Hosaka could not say yet the basis for the dismissal of the petitions filed by Albay 1st district Rep. Edcel Lagman, the Makabayan bloc led by Bayan Muna party-list rep. Carlos Zarate, the group led by former Commission on Elections chair Christian Monsod and the group of lumad teachers and students represented by the Free Legal Assistance Group, which he said would be known in the Court’s decision. The Court made the ruling after holding oral arguments last Jan. 29.

In their petitions, all four groups alleged that there was no factual basis to justify the extension of martial law in Mindanao as required by the 1987 Constitution.

They argued that the attacks by terror groups and violent incidents that took place in Mindanao last year, including four bombings cited in the report of the Armed Forces, were acts of terrorism and not rebellion as required by law in declaration of martial law.

And despite the recent twin bombings at the Jolo Cathedral in Sulu that killed at least 21 people, petitioners insisted that public safety in Mindanao is not imperiled.

Petitioners also reiterated that the Court may review the factual basis of martial law proclamation, which is a task specifically assigned by the Constitution to Congress.

On the other hand, Solicitor General Jose Calida cited several attacks attributed to the New People’s Army in Mindanao, which he stressed were clearly acts of rebellion.

He reiterated that the Jolo Cathedral bombing is proof of the ongoing threat to public safety in Mindanao posed by local terrorist groups.

The solicitor general also cited data of the Armed Forces that there are still 424 active members of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in 138 barangays in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga; 264 members of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in 50 baragays; 59 members of Saulah Islamiyah; six members of Maguid group and 85 members of Turaifie group.

He also reiterated the influx of foreign terrorists in the country “who are responsible for training local terrorist fighters,” citing the entry of four foreign terrorist fighters last year while 60 others are on AFP’s watchlist.

Calida also argued that the decision of Congress to approve the President’s request is beyond judicial review.

He also cited the high court’s earlier ruling that upheld the previous extension of martial law, which held that there are sufficient legal safeguards against human rights abuses raised by petitioners.

With these arguments, he asked the Court to dismiss four similar petitions for lack of merit.

The SC already upheld the constitutionality of Proclamation No. 216 in July 2017 and its initial one-year extension in February last year. 

The Court held that the extension had sufficient factual basis, as “the rebellion that spawned the Marawi incident persists.”

It said “public safety requires the extension, as shown by facts presented by the (Armed Forces of the Philippines).”

The SC also said that the two houses of Congress have the “full discretionary authority” to promulgate their own rules, and this power is exempt from judicial review and interference, “except on a clear showing of such arbitrary and improvident use of the power such as would constitute a denial of due process.”

The high court also noted that there is no provision in the Constitution that prescribes how many times the proclamation of martial law may be extended or how long the extended period may be.

Duterte first declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, 2017 after the ISIS-inspired Maute group laid siege to Marawi City. Five months later, Duterte, in a rousing speech to his troops, announced the liberation of Marawi City.

But the AFP revealed that communist rebels continued their logistical buildup and extortion activities, which he said hinder government development efforts. – With  John Unson



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