Time to be more vigilant

Jose C. Sison - The Philippine Star

The Constitutional provision regarding the declaration of martial law requires the President to submit a report within 48 hours (Section 18, Article VII). Pursuant to said section also, the ball is now in the hands of Congress to confirm or revoke such declaration after reviewing the report in joint session assembled. It has to act on it and not just allow the effective period of 60 days to lapse. While the Constitution does not fix a period within which they should act, it is tacitly clear and logically deducible that Congress must act on said report within a reasonable time and before 60 days. Otherwise, what’s the use of said report and why should the Constitution require the President to submit it within 48 hours?

Therefore, as representatives of the People of the Philippines in whom sovereignty resides and from whom all government authority emanates (Section 1, Article II Constitution), Congress in joint session assembled must act on said report within a reasonable time. It is about time for our Senators and Congressmen to fix a date when they should meet and approve or revoke the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao based on the report of Duterte already submitted to them one week ago. In doing so, they will just be upholding the principle of checks and balances enshrined in our Charter.

Our Congressmen and Senators must determine the factual bases for declaring Martial Law by determining that Duterte’s action is in accordance with the Constitution. The primary and most important questions that must be answered here are: (1) are there really sufficient grounds to declare martial law in the entire island of Mindanao when the terroristic acts now being perpetuated by the Maute and the ISIS group are only in Marawi City? (2) Is the military not capable of suppressing and stopping this terrorism and lawless violence even without declaring martial law? (3) Is there invasion or rebellion in Mindanao when the AFP spokesman himself recently claimed that everything is under control? (4) Can martial law be declared in the entire country just because the President senses that Middle East based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has also taken foothold in Visayas and Luzon? And (5) is there a clear and present danger that the rule of law may be violated and disregarded once more like during the Marcos martial regime?

Refusing to meet in joint session to look into the report of the President has only given rise to the prevailing impression that there are really no factual bases for declaring martial law in Mindanao and they don’t want the public to know about it. This is the impression created because there is no possibility at all that the declaration will be revoked despite the existence of factual bases considering that the super majority in both Houses are allies of the President and thus can easily approve it. So rather than meeting in joint session to approve it, they thought it is much better not to find out anymore the answers to the above issues and just allow the declaration to be effective within the specified period. Such stance is a clear violation of Section 18 Article VII and an open disregard of the principles of checks and balances. Thus, our country is now really heading towards a one-man rule as adherence to the rule of law has been thrashed.

Indeed, in a recent speech after declaring martial law, Duterte has again made a disturbing statement before the soldiers and the police force that he will rely more and listen to them in determining whether there are grounds to declare it in said island, rather than to Congress and or the Supreme Court “who are not here” and are “not the ones dying and losing blood, hemorrhaging because there is no help, no reinforcement.” Such statement is really quite alarming in the light of Section 18, Article VII of the Constitution. The clear implication here is that he is defying Congress and the Supreme Court which are the two other independent and equal branches of government. With such statement, any clarification from the Palace spokesman that the President will not defy the Supreme Court or Congress will just fall into deaf ears.

Another sign that we are really heading toward a one-man rule is Duterte’s obvious attempts to get the backing and support of the military and the police. His “rape joke” that has incurred the ire of most Filipinas is vivid example in this connection. In a speech before an audience composed of soldiers and police assigned in Mindanao, he said that they can commit rape for three times and he will assume responsibility for those rapes. Joke or not, the only interpretation to such a statement is that he has no regard for our laws aside from debasing the dignity of womanhood especially Filipino women.

More alarming and interesting in this connection is that as early as December 2016, he already knew that the Maute group which is in the forest “will go down upon Marawi and burn the place.” This is quite intriguing as it has given rise to lots of speculations. Most notable among them is that there is really a concrete plan to impose martial rule in the country starting in Mindanao. This speculation has acquired some validity because the “invasion” of Marawi would have been averted since December last year, yet nothing has been done about it until they were able to really enter the city and occupy strategic areas inside to stage some sort of a “rebellion.” And with the President’s recent statement that he will impose martial law in Visayas and Luzon if he senses the presence of the Maute group, therein, the entire country may really be placed under martial law sometime later.

These are times that really call for more vigilance towards adherence to the rule of law.

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