How much power does the Congress have to scrutinize President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao? And, how willing are congressional leaders to assert it? The answer, it seems, is not much.
Speaking to ABS-CBN News, House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said that based on his interpretation, congressional approval is not required to implement martial law. “If it is in favor of the proclamation, it does not have to act, but nothing prevents either or both Houses from expressing support,” he said. It appears that Fariñas is relying on a very technical interpretation of Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution.
Instead of having a joint session, Fariñas said that the Senate and the House of Representatives will meet separately with representatives of the Duterte administration in an executive session next week to discuss the details of the martial law proclamation. He said that public hearings are not advisable because the discussions would center on issues involving national security.
For his part, Senator Panfilo Lacson conceded that the Senate will be rendered irrelevant if and when both Houses of Congress votes jointly on Duterte’s martial law declaration. “It goes without saying though that by sheer numbers alone, we are deemed irrelevant in this regard. 24 senators can’t outvote 292 congressmen,” he told GMA News. Nevertheless, he suggested that if possible, the Senators should strive to have a common stand on the matter.
The last time martial law was declared in any part of the country was in 2009, when then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo placed the provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, as well as Cotabato City under military rule in the aftermath of the Ampatuan massacre.
Through Proclamation 1959, Arroyo said that “the condition of peace and order in the province of Maguindanao has deteriorated to the extent that the local judicial system and other government mechanisms in the province are not functioning, thus endangering public safety.”
At that time, armed members of the Ampatuan family and their supporters were said to have threatened to launch hostile action against the government if it tries to apprehend them. The martial law declaration was lifted after only eight days.
Arroyo’s swift lifting of the martial law made it moot and academic for the joint session of the Philippine Congress and even the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue. Because of it, the legislative and judicial check and balances as regards a President’s power to declare martial law hasn’t been fully tested. Will Fariñas and his colleagues embrace this responsibility?