Maguindanao Martial Law: Unpopular Act of an Unpopular President

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared martial law beginning Friday night in the southern province of Maguindanao, where 57 people were killed last week. It was later declared officially on the following day.

In a press conference, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita announced Proclamation No. 1959 declaring a state of martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the province of Maguindanao, except for certain areas identified as bailiwicks of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) separatists.

Constitutional Basis. According to Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Philippine Constitutiton, ‘xxx In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, (the President) may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law. xxx’

Basis of Rebellion. Republic Act No. 6968, provides that the crime of rebellion or insurrection or an Act Punishing the crime of coup d’etat by amending articles 134, 135 and 136 of Chapter One, title Three of Act Numbered thirty-Eight Hundred and Fifteen, otherwise known as the revised Penal Code, and for other purposes,‘is committed by rising publicly and taking arms against the Government for the purpose of xxx depriving the Chief Executive or the Legislature, wholly or partially, of any of their powers or prerogatives.’

On the report of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the Senate on Proclamation 1959, or Proclaiming a State of Martial Law and Suspending the Privilege of Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Province of Maguindanao, Except for Certain Areas, per instruction of the Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the chief executive stated that the ‘heavily armed groups in the province of Maguindanao have established positions to resist government troops, thereby depriving the Executive of its powers and prerogatives to enforce the laws of the land and to maintain public order and safety xxx 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 xxx’

Furthermore, while the President’s authority to declare a state of rebellion emanates from the powers as Chief Executive, the statutory authority is Section 4, Chapter 2, Book II of the Revised Administrative Code which provides:

“Acts of the President fixing a date or declaring a status or condition of public moment or interest, upon the existence of which the operation of a specific law or regulation is made to depend, shall be promulgated in proclamations which shall have the force of an executive order.”

The President’s declaration of a state of rebellion was merely an act declaring a status or condition of public moment or interest, a declaration allowed under Section 4 cited above. Such declaration, in the words of Sanlakas, is harmless, without legal significance, and deemed not written.

The Power of Judicial Review. The court has the power to test the validity of Presidential Proclamation No. 1959 in light of its conformity with the constitution. Also according to Article VII, Section 18, ‘xxx The Supreme Court may review, in an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen, the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or the extension thereof, and must promulgate its decision thereon within thirty days from its filing xxx’

Explicit constitutional recognition of the power of judicial review is also found is Section 4(2), Article VIII, which provides inter alia, ‘xxx all cases involving the constitutionality of a treaty, international or executive agreement, or law which shall be heard by the Supreme Court en banc, including those involving the constitutionality, application or operation of presidential decrees, proclamations, orders, instructions, ordinances, and other regulations, shall be decided with the concurrence of a majority of the Members who actually took part in deliberation on the issues in the case and voted thereon.’

Political Perspective. While there may be a legal ground for the declaration of Martial Law in Maguindanao, is it practical for a very unpopular President to make the unpopular act?


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