President Duterte has again raised the spectre of martial law, saying he could declare it “if I want to” and that “no one can stop me.”
Speaking in Davao city yesterday (Saturday, January 14) he said he was willing to trigger the suspension of basic rights should the situation in the country became “virulent” and it was necessary to “preserve the nation”.
“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?”
Yesterday, speaking in a mixture of Filipino and English, he amplified that message, saying: “If I want to, and if it will deteriorate into something really very virulent, I will declare martial law if I want to. No one can stop me.”
While not specific about what a “virulent” situation may be, shortly before the statement he had been defending his war on drugs.
“If it is needed, the other side will say, drugs, that’s not enough, then I see that, you know, there are about four million slaves in this country,” he said.
However, he added that any declaration would have nothing to do with any desire to extend his own period of office. “Those who are thinking, mostly Manileños, about martial law lengthening my stay in office, bullshit,” he said. “I do not need the position at this time of my life. I do not need it.”
He also pledged that if he were to declare martial law, it would only be in the best interests of society at large.
“If I have to declare martial law, I will declare it, not because of invasion, insurrection, I will declare martial law to preserve my nation, period,” he said.
Under the 1987 Constitution, the president can only declare martial law “in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it.”
After any declaration of martial law, a report must be submitted to Congress within 48 hours. Congress can then vote to revoke the declaration.
Martial law is limited to 60 days unless Congress votes to extend it “if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.”
As a secondary safeguard against the misuse of martial law, any citizen can bring a case to the Supreme Court questioning the factual basis of the declaration.
In today’s speech, Duterte repeated the criticisms of these safeguards he made last month, asking what would happen if Congress and the Supreme Court had differing views on the declaration. The president would then have to take a side, he said.
“Here is Congress, and here is the Supreme Court drawn into a stalemate just to have the safety nets of an abusive despot or dictator. Where will I go then? So if the Supreme Court decides otherwise and here is Congress, what will I do now? There is no more control. The three great branches of government, two are against one another, so I, as president, will decide.”
He also said that — despite the much lauded success of his crusade against drugs — if the narcotics problem merited it, he would ignore the Supreme court.
“I don’t care about the Supreme Court because of the right to preserve one’s life and my nation,” he said. “My country transcends everything else, even the limitation.
However, in seemingly contradictory statements, the president has frequently said that he sees “no need” to declare martial law, as the current state of national emergency provides sufficient powers to act.
He has also previously said that declaring martial law would only burden innocent people.