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SC affirms Duterte’s martial law declaration in Mindanao

Voting 11-3-1, the Supreme Court has voted to uphold President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao.

Eleven justices said yes to martial law for the entire Mindanao. Meanwhile, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and Justice Alfredo Caguioa said only Marawi City can be placed under military rule. Only Justice Marvic Leonen said the administration has no basis to declare martial law.

As reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the three consolidated petitions against the martial law centered on this argument: that Duterte, even in his capacity as the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, has no sufficient factual basis to declare martial law for the entire Mindanao.

And though the full text of the SC’s decision is yet to be released, the majority of the magistrates evidently ruled that the administration’s martial law declaration stands on solid ground.

Duterte Supreme Court martial law

The Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutionality of President Duterte’s martial law declaration in Mindanao. (Credits: www.pcoo.gov.ph)

Without a doubt, this Supreme Court case deals a lot on whether presidential powers should be viewed narrowly or expansively. Abraham Lincoln, who served as United States President from 1861 to 1865 which covers the Civil War, laid out the rationale for an expansive view of presidential power when he wrote:

I did understand however, that my oath to preserve the constitution to the best of my ability, imposed upon me the duty of preserving, by every indispensable means, that government–that nation–of which that constitution was the organic law.” (emphasis supplied)

At this point, it must be emphasized that the SC in the past has been deferential to the executive branch when it comes to the use of presidential powers in dealing with national security and public safety  matters.

In its ruling in the case Integrated Bar of the Philippines vs. Zamora, et. al. (2000), the SC stressed that “(it is) the unclouded intent of the Constitution to vest upon the President, as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Foron to call forth the military when in his judgment it is necessary to do so in order to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion, or rebellions.”

The High Court likewise placed the burden of proof on the side of those who are challenging the President: “Unless the petitioner can show that the exercise of such discretion was gravely abused, the President’s exercise of judgment deserves to be accorded respect from this Court.”

The SC laid out this rationale behind their deference to the executive branch when it comes to issues of national security: “The President as Commander-in-Chief has a vast intelligence network to gather information, some of which may be classified as highly confidential or affecting the security of the state. In the exercise of the power to call, on-the-spot decisions may be imperatively necessary in emergency situations to avert great loss of human lives and mass destruction of property.” 

It will not be surprising therefore if the majority of SC justices relied on these two-decade old principles in agreeing that President Duterte did not overstep his powers when he placed the entire Mindanao under martial law.

MUST READ: Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s 2005 article titled “Introduction to extraordinary presidential powers

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