Insisting that the year-long extension of martial law in Mindanao is constitutional, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) urged the Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday to uphold the declaration.
In its 20-page memorandum on consolidated petitions against the extension, the OSG countered petitioners’ allegation of grave abuse of discretion on the part of Congress, as it stressed the Constitution allows Congress to extend the proclamation and suspension more than once.
President Duterte issued Proclamation 216 May 23 last year, placing the entire southern Philippine region under martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, in light of attacks on Marawi City by ISIS-inspired Maute local terror group.
The declaration was supposed to lapse in 60 days, but was extended up to December 31 as Congress met in joint session on July 22 to approve President Duterte’s request. Mr. Duterte’s request for the further extension of the proclamation for one year was also approved by Congress.
Duterte explained that the request was made upon the assessment of the military and police, following reported intensified recruitment activities by the terrorists.
“The Joint Resolution dated December 13, 2017 approving President Duterte’s request to extend Martial Law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao from December 31, 2017 to December 31, 2018 is valid and not unconstitutional,” the OSG said.
“The power to grant an extension of martial law and a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is vested in both Houses of Congress voting jointly under Section 18, Article VII of the Constitution,” it added.
The memorandum also pointed out that Congress’ joint resolution has sufficient factual basis and satisfies constitutional requirements for the extension, as it also stressed that the sixty-day period provided for in Section 18, Article VII of the Constitution does not apply to the extension of the proclamation of and suspension.
On human rights issues raised by petitioners, the OSG explained that allegations of abuse and human rights violations cannot nullify the extension, even as it assured that the extension is not intended for the commission of human rights violations or quell legitimate redress of grievances against government.
The extension was challenged before the Supreme Court (SC) by a group of minority lawmakers led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, members of the Makabayan bloc at the House of the Representatives, former Commission on Human Rights chairperson Etta Rosales, and former Commission on Elections chairman Christian Monsod.
For its part, Lagman, et al.’s memorandum reiterated petitioners’ assertion that the liberation of Marawi City from terrorists and their influence, which was declared by President Rodrigo Duterte on October 27, 2017, and the subsequent cessation of combat operations announced by martial law administrator and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, rendered Proclamation No. 216 expired.
“Consequently, Proclamation No. 216 is no longer subject to further extension because government forces have decisively crushed the Maute-Abu Sayyaf so-called ‘rebellion. What remain are phantom ‘remnants of the vanquished terrorist groups, as admitted by President Duterte and his advisers,” their memorandum states.
“Actual rebellion does not persist in Mindanao to justify an extension,” it adds.
Petitioners insisted there is no sufficient factual basis to further extend the extraordinary measures because there is "no actual rebellion or invasion" in the southern Philippine region. They stressed that the rebellion in Marawi City by local terror group Maute group has already been quelled by the military.
All the petitioners are of the view that martial law can only be declared in a theater or war.
They also pointed out that the president is not vested with a “blanket authority” on which power to exercise, as they stressed that the Constitution requires a “calibrated response” to incidents that require military action, in the event that public safety requires it.