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Authoritarian rule

By: Dr. Ramon Ricardo A. Roque, CESOI, Diplomate

The Philippine Supreme Court has spoken – the martial law declaration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in Mindanao is constitutional and legal. The Supreme Court voted 11-3-1 in favor of the declaration.

The justices who voted in favor of the martial law declaration pointed to arguments that were also espoused by this column including the fear of abuses in the implementation of martial as not a basis for claiming that martial law is unconstitutional and illegal.

The lone dissenting vote came from Associated Justice Marvic Leonen who opined that upholding the martial law declaration will essentially mean “clothing authoritarianism with the mantle of constitutionality.”

Justice Leonen essentially echoed the position of the petitioners that the martial law declaration is a creeping authoritarianism. Such position is a “fear” of martial abuses that the majority of the SC justices held as not a basis for nullifying the declaration.

Did President Duterte declare martial law in Mindanao because he intended to use it to force an authoritarian rule?

It all boils down to the real intention of the President.

While the SC reiterated in its decision that a martial law declaration is the sole prerogative of the Philippine President, are we helpless if the imposition of an authoritarian rule was the real intention of the President when he declared martial law in Mindanao?

As the institutionalization of authoritarian rule happened when the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared martial law in the whole Philippines in 1972, the 1987 Constitution has already provided “safety measures” for that not to happen again.

The 60-day limit on the initial martial law declaration of any Philippine President is one of such measures. What is the value of a 60-day authoritarian rule for a President? The Philippine President’s sole prerogative on martial law has this “60-day limit” as it effective for a longer period will require the approval of the Philippine Congress.

Is it likely that Congress will sanction a President’s desire to institute authoritarian rule particularly when majority of its members are politically allied with the President?

Even if majority of the members of Congress surrender to such desire of a Philippine President, the Constitution still provides for the Supreme Court safety measure as the country court of last resort can nullify martial law declaration and its extension.

When authoritarian rule still happens despite the Constitutional safeguards against martial law that can be used to institutionalize it, democracy dies in our country. But such death will not happen until our democratic institutions are alive. In the meantime, let us not allow our “fears” to cripple or kill our democratic institutions.