Spot the difference: Mindanao martial law vs state of national emergency

Ratziel San Juan - Philstar.com
Spot the difference: Mindanao martial law vs state of national emergency
Malacañang said the state of national emergency, which has been under effect for over 1,200 days as of writing, is indefinite.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — The 2020 New Year celebration came with the expiration of martial law in Mindanao after two and a half years of implementation that security officials said had improved the peace and order situation on the island.

Martial law, which had been in effect in Mindanao since May 2017, was declared by President Rodrigo Duterte in response to an attack on Marawi City in Lanao del Sur by the Maute local terrorist group and by members of an Abu Sayyaf faction.

Marawi was reclaimed after a five-month firefight between state troops and the armed groups.

Martial law, initially for 60 days, had been readily extended by Congress despite claims from citizens and the opposition that Mindanao saw more rights abuses under the military’s watch.

Stakeholders have yet to rejoice, however, as the president’s “state of national emergency” proclamation — which predates the martial law declaration — is still in force.

Will soldiers stay in Mindanao?

Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson, said that Proclamation 55, "Declaring a State of National Emergency on Account of Lawless Violence in Mindanao,” remains in effect along with roaming troops.

The Marine officer said there will be fewer checkpoints and soldiers patrolling the region, but maintained that security procedures will still be strictly observed.

“If our enemies will see that we become relaxed in terms of security, they may slip through again,” Arevalo told DZMM on Thursday morning.

“Patuloy pa rin po ang ating gagawing operasyon subalit ang makikita po natin na marahil ay kabawasan ay sa mga lugar na nag-improve na po ang security situation.” 

(Our operations will continue although certain areas where the security situation has improved will see fewer operations.)

Parts of Mindanao have had a heavy military presence even prior to the declaration of martial law, Proclamation 55, and even the Duterte administration.

What is Proclamation 55?

Proclamation 55 was issued on Sep. 4, 2016, days after the Davao City bombing that left 14 dead and scores injured.

The proclamation authorized the military and police to “undertake such measures as may be permitted by the Constitution and existing laws to suppress any and all forms of lawless violence in Mindanao and to prevent such lawless violence from spreading and escalating elsewhere in the Philippines, with due regard to the fundamental civil and political rights of our citizens.”

Such measures include the imposition of checkpoints and curfews.

The deployment of government troops and police personnel through a “state of national emergency” or “state of lawlessness” is one of the presidential powers granted by the Constitution, along with the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and the declaration of martial law.

“The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion,” reads Article VII (Executive Department) Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution.

Unchecked power?

Malacañang said the state of national emergency, which has been in effect for over 1,200 days as of writing, is indefinite.

“There is no limitation under our Constitution, this is not martial law which has a 60-day limitation,” Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said in September 2016.

The Palace also said that Duterte’s proclamation does not need the concurrence of Congress.

“The Constitution is clear that there’s only a report if a suspension of the writ is made or if there is a declaration of martial law, that is not the situation today,” Assistant Secretary for Policy and Legislative Affairs Kristian Ablan said then.

However, the president himself equates the state of national emergency with martial law.

“Remember that there is – there’s no difference actually between martial law and a declaration of national emergency. So I’ve been warning all. I’m warning all, including the human rights, it’s either we behave or we will have a serious problem again,” Duterte said in June 2018.

Proclamation No. 55 cites lawless violence in Mindanao but covers the entire country and has been cited in the deployment of troops in other parts of the Philippines.

Memorandum Order 32, for example, deploys more government forces to Samar, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, and the Bicol Region, where rights groups say rights violations have been reported.

The presidential order directly cited Proclamation 55, as well as its implementing guidelines MO 3.

“MO 32 (guidelines for Samar, Negros, Bicol) merely reiterates and reinforces MO 3 (guidelines for Mindanao) issued right after the issuance of Proclamation 55 (state of national emergency), in light of recent acts of lawlessness in some parts of the country,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in November 2018.

What the guidelines say

Although the president said it is just like martial law, the state of national emergency has limits.

It states that warrantless arrests are only justified under the following circumstances:

“(i) when the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense in the presence of the arresting officer;

“(ii) when an offense has just been committed and the arresting officer has personal knowledge of facts indicating that the person to be arrested has committed the offense;

“(iii) when the person to be arrested is a prisoner who escaped from a penal establishment or place where he is serving final judgment or temporarily confined with his case is pending;

“(iv) when the person arrested, or to be arrested, has voluntarily waived his rights against warrantless arrests.”

The guidelines also state that for military and police checkpoints, “inspection shall be limited to a request to roll down vehicle windows, search for things in plain view only, and production of identification and vehicle registration papers."

"No further intrusive actions shall be taken, such as demanding the opening of trucks or lids or asking person(s) on board to step out, unless the subject individual consents or agrees thereto," they also say.

During stop-and-frisk situations, searches conducted by government forces “shall be limited to light patting on the outer garments of the subject individual” to identify weapons or similar effects.

Military and police personnel found to have violated constitutional rights “shall be held administratively and civilly/criminally liable.”

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