Critics have reacted with dismay after president Duterte said he wanted the constitution amended to make it easier for a president to declare martial law.
Speaking in Angeles City yesterday (Thursday, December 22), he said the constitution tied the president’s hands when it came to dealing with security crises. The power to declare martial law should be the sole prerogative of the president, without judicial and congressional approval, he added.
“If you have martial law, only one person should be in control,” he said. “If there’s invasion or war and I declare martial law, I cannot proceed on and on to deal with the trouble as I still have to go to Congress, go to the Supreme Court.
“Well, what happens if the Supreme Court says one thing and Congress says another — one says yes and the other says no? Where would you put me?
“That’s why that needs to be replaced.”
Under the 1987 Constitution, Congress and the Supreme Court both have the power to review the declaration of martial law. However, Mr Duterte described this safeguard as “a reckless reaction to the Marcos regime”.
His words drew swift condemnation from Vice President Leni Robredo who said that a “one-man-rule is the worst Christmas gift to the Filipino people.”
“For President Duterte to challenge the democratic safeguards of the very constitution he swore to uphold on June 30, 2016 is appalling.
“To refer to specific provisions in the 1987 Constitution prohibiting such as ‘a reckless reaction to the Marcos regime’ is an insult to the experience of the Filipino nation that endured great suffering and hardship under the martial law regime,” she said.
The Vice President’s fears were dismissed by chief presidential legal adviser Salvador Panelo, who said: “She may have misunderstood the context. I know where she is coming from, and I can understand the fears of victims of martial law but we have to consider the character of this man. He will not tolerate any violation of any law.
“Under the Constitution, the primordial duty of the president as head of the government is to protect and serve the people. That is the context by which the president made those statements.”
Mr Panelo also reiterated that Duterte had repeatedly said he would not declare Martial Law.
Another critic, Senator Francis Pangilinan, said the president’s shifting stance on martial rule was not reassuring. “He said a few days ago that martial law was stupid and didn’t work, and yet now he says something else. His lack of clarity is a serious cause for concern.”
Senator Grace Poe was also critical. She said: “We all agree that poverty is one of the root causes of rebellion for which martial law powers are primarily meant. To address such cause, what we need is to open up our economy to more investments and to strengthen our public institutions for the purpose of uplifting the lives of poor Filipinos.”
She also said if the government really was winning the war against drugs and making inroads with Moro and communist rebels, there would be no need for martial law powers.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV was even more outspoken, saying: “We have a tyrant in our midst. The longer we deny that reality, the more powerful and oppressive he becomes. Snap out of it, people!”
Senator Leila de Lima said Duterte was already encouraging a policy of summary execution in violation of the constitution. “I don’t think violating the constitution in order to declare and implement martial law will still be a problem under a regime that has singularly destroyed the rule of law and disposed of government accountability in this country,” she said.
Representative Gary Alejano described the president as a “virtual dictator” during his tenure as mayor of Davao. “He has a dictatorial tendency. That explains why he keeps on floating the issue of martial law,” he said.
The Philippines adopted a new constitution in 1987 after the “People Power” revolution toppled Ferdinand Marcos and ended his 20-year rule.
Under Marcos, who imposed martial rule from 1972-1981 to fight crime and a communist insurgency, thousands were killed and tortured to suppress dissent.
Today the president can impose martial rule for up to 60 days to stop invasion or rebellion, but parliament can revoke it within 48 hours, while the Supreme Court can also review its legality.
In the light of the bloody war on drugs, there are some who believe that declaring martial law wouldn’t actually make much difference. Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, who ministers to the impoverished Tondo district of Manila, where many drug suspects have been gunned down, said: “It is not necessary that you have a declaration of martial law to have martial law.”