THE Philippine Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday, February 6, has affirmed the constitutionality of President Rodrigo Duterte’s yearlong martial law extension in Mindanao.
Ten magistrates voted to junk the petitions challenging the extension of Proclamation No. 216, which placed Mindanao under martial law and suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the area.
They were Associate Justices Noel Tijam, Presbitero Velasco Jr.,Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano Del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Samuel Martires, Andres Reyes Jr., and Alexander Gesmundo.
Only five voted in favor of the petitions: Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Justice Francis Jardeleza, and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.
“The Court finds sufficient factual basis for the issuance of resolutions of both houses and finds it constitutional,” SC Spokesman Theodore Te said in a press conference. “Accordingly the consolidated petitions are hereby dismissed.”
In December last year, Congress granted Duterte’s request to retain the martial law in Mindanao until December 31, 2018 for the “total eradication” of the communist rebels, Islamic State (IS)-inspired groups, and other local and foreign terrorist groups in the area.
The SC has consolidated four petitions challenging the constitutionality of the one-year extension.
The first and second petitions were separately filed by the “Magnificent Seven” of the House of Representatives, led by Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, and by human rights advocates and cause-oriented groups represented by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).
The third petition was lodged by Former Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales, while the fourth was submitted by a group led by former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman and one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution Christian Monsod.
Petitioners argued that there is no factual basis for extending martial law in Mindanao due to the absence of an actual invasion or rebellion, as Marawi City had already been liberated from Maute terrorists last October.
The SC, however, ruled that the president and Congress had sufficient factual basis to extend military rule: “The rebellion that spawned the Marawi incident persists” and “public safety requires the extension, as shown by facts presented by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines).”
In a statement, the Department of National Defense (DND) and the AFP welcomed the SC decision.
“The DND-AFP is grateful for the trust and confidence of our public institutions and the support of the Filipino people,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.
He also added that the affirmation of martial law extension “will definitely heighten the morale of our Defenders and allow them to better safeguard public safety in Mindanao as well as give Task Force Bangon Marawi the necessary space to undertake the unhampered rehabilitation of Marawi.”
AFP spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo, meanwhile, described the SC decision as a “vote of confidence.” He further reassured the public that the military will “continue to protect our people against all rebel forces.”