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President Duterte declares martial law in Mindanao – a commentary

President Rodrigo Duterte has placed the entire Mindanao under martial law, following the attacks organized by Maute group in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur throughout Tuesday (May 23). The Maute group has long pledged alliance to the international terrorist group Islamic State or ISIS. (ABS-CBN News has posted a comprehensive timeline of events in this link.)

Duterte made the declaration during his trip to Moscow, Russia. He has canceled the remainder of his seven-day trip – he was also supposed to visit the United Arab Emirates –  to return to the Philippines later today.

Under Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution, the President, in his or her capacity as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, may place the entire country or any part of it under martial law “to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion, or rebellion.” The declaration can only last for 60 days, but it can be extended.

ISIS in the Philippines - Maute group

Mindanao-based Maute group has long pledged allegiance to the international terror group Islamic State or ISIS (Credits: www.DailyMail.co.uk)

President Duterte is constitutionally obligated to submit a report about his martial law declaration to both Houses of Congress within 48 hours. Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez will then call a joint session wherein all legislators will have the chance to deliberate and vote on whether to sustain or revoke Duterte’s martial law declaration. According to the Constitution, the House of Representatives and the Senate will be voting jointly on this. And with administration allies dominating both chambers,

Now, it is understandable for a lot of people to be uneasy about this martial law declaration especially since it evokes horrible memories from the Marcos dictatorship. The 1987 Constitution, which was drafted after the restoration of democracy, spells out a strict mechanism to ensure that the administration, including the military and police, won’t act as if a martial law declaration gives them a blank check to do anything they want.

It is now up to our legislators, the Supreme Court, and the people to make sure that abuses will not happen. This will be a serious test of the strength of our government’s checks and balances.

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