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Martial law & the state of emergency

WHEN President Marcos declared martial law in 1972, he drew his authority from Article VII, Section 11(2) of the 1935 Constitution which provided in part: “… In case of invasion, insurrection, or rebellion, or imminent danger thereof, when the public safety requires it, he may suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.”

The Constitutional Convention of 1971 removed this provision when it drew up the 1973 Constitution but the martial law regime restored it via an amendment.

As the People Power Revolution of 1986 ended Marcos rule and President Corazon C. Aquino began her term, she formed a commission to draw up a new Constitution in 1987, which is what we have today. The Cory administration sought to reduce the tremendous powers that the President could exercise and so the 1987 Constitution imposed stringent limits on the exercise of martial law.

Our new Constitution thus states: “… In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, (the President) 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.” (Article VII, Section 18)

Aside from the 60-day limit, the same article provides: “Within 48 hours from the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the President shall submit the report in person or in writing to the Congress. 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…”

Fast-forward to 2016. Last week, a bomb exploded at the night market in Davao City, killing 14 and wounding 70 others. President Duterte proclaimed what he called “a state of lawlessness” – not martial law. He ordered the military to assist the police in maintaining security all over the country.

According to Presidential Legal Adviser Salvador Panelo, the proclamation of a “state of lawlessness” had been discussed even before the bombing. It was to carry out the ongoing campaign against illegal drugs, criminality, terrorism, and to step up the offensive against the Abu Sayyaf. When the text of the proclamation was released days later, it was titled “Declaring a state of national emergency on account of lawless violence in Mindanao.”

Secretary Panelo allayed fears that the proclamation of emergency could be a precursor to a declaration of martial law or a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. “We are very far away from this,” he said. This should help reassure those who fear the country is moving towards martial law – even with its present limitations – especially those who were around in 1972 and lived through the decade of repression that followed, when Congress was shut down and presidential decrees rather than laws were followed, newspapers and broadcast media were closed, and thousands of arrests were made without the courts to protect their rights.

President Duterte continues to enjoy support all over the country and we wish him well as he carries on his campaign against drugs, criminality, and corruption, and raises it to a new level with the proclamation of a state of national emergency. We are confident that he will not allow the kind of abuses that took place in the martial law of 1972-81.