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Redefining martial law

What is martial law?

For many Filipinos, especially those who experienced martial law during the incumbency of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, it is not good.

Martial law for many Filipinos means dictatorial rule – that no one can go against the president of the country without being tortured, jailed or killed. It has been equated to the loss of democracy because only one person controls all supposed democratic institutions and he uses the military and police powers (and this means “forcefully”) to do what he deemed to be needed, proper and necessary.

Such meaning of martial law is the very reason why any sign of a Philippine president declaring martial law is already a cause for alarm.

Martial law is not bad. In fact, even with how martial law was enforced during the so-called Marcos era, the 1987 Philippine Constitution – the fundamental law of the land – provides for the declaration of martial law and the equally “feared” suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. However, this Constitution also provides for some safeguards to avoid abuse of the same by a sitting president.

The 1987 Constitution recognizes the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and the declaration or imposition of martial law in the Philippines or any part of it as means to ensure public safety when there is rebellion or invasion.

Unlike how martial law was declared in the country in 1972, martial law under the 1987 Constitution can only be “valid” if Congress does not revoke it after the president submits a report to it. The Constitution also provides for the duration of martial law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus – 60 days only and Congress needs to authorize any extension.

Are these Constitutional safeguards enough to ensure that the declaration of martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus are done to serve the interest of Filipino people? Is the president’s power to do such declaration and suspension still vulnerable or open to abuse even with such safeguards?

The 1987 Constitution has already and effectively “redefined” martial law in our country. As President Rodrigo R. Duterte has recently declared martial law and suspended the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao, he also has a great opportunity to more substantially redefine such powers of the Philippine president by the way he will implement such declaration and suspension.

President Duterte has always been consistent in his commitment to serve the Filipino people. With such commitment being at the core of implementing martial law and suspending the writ of habeas corpus, President Duterte can create an indelible mark in our country’s history by showing how good such suspension and declaration could and should be.
(Dr. Ramon Ricardo A. Roque, CESOI, Diplomate)