Petitioners say SC has final word on fate of Mindanao martial law

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 13 2017 06:39 PM

MANILA - Petitioners seeking the nullification of martial law in Mindanao believe the Supreme Court has the final word on the fate of President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of military rule over Mindanao following clashes between government troops and terrorists in Marawi City.

During the oral arguments Tuesday, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen asked lawyer Marlon Manuel about the difference between the how the Supreme Court would rule on the legality of the martial law declaration and Congress' affirmation of the president's proclamation. 

"There is supposed to be some kind of balance between what the Congress can do and what the Supreme Court will do," Leonen told Manuel, who is representing four Marawi women protesting the President's declaration. 

Leonen pointed out that the High Court was composed of justices who were appointed, not elected into their positions, while lawmakers, some of whom even representing Mindanao, were duly elected.

"Why would this court of un-elected representatives overturn a body of hundreds representing different parts of the entire Republic in their decision not to revoke the declaration of martial law?" asked Leonen, pointing out that Mindanao lawmakers were not among those who filed petitions against the declaration. 

In response, Manuel explained that while the Constitution allowed both the Supreme Court and Congress to review the legality of a martial law declaration, the high court's decision shall prevail. 

"In the discussion in the deliberations with the Constitutional Commission, the same question was posed by one of the commissioners," he said. 

"The categorical answer of Fr. [Joaquin] Bernas was [that] the Supreme Court's decision shall prevail," said Manuel, in reference to discussions of the framers of the 1987 Constitution.

This was also the line of questioning of Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe when she interpellated petitioner Albay Representative Edcel Lagman during the oral arguments.

Lagman said any decision by Congress on the martial law declaration should not prevent the high court from performing its mandate. 

Asked to explain, Lagman said revocation by the Congress is a "political question addressed to representatives of the people in the legislature" while the Supreme Court's decision is an exercise of judicial power.

Given the difference between the two, Perlas-Bernabe asked Lagman whose decision would prevail should the court rule that the factual basis for the declaration of martial law was sufficient while Congress decides to revoke the proclamation. 

Lagman initially said the Supreme Court's decision should prevail in cases of conflict of decision, but expounded on his answer after Perlas-Bernabe pointed out the difference between the concepts of revocation and the court's decision.

"Well, the Congress may still do that (revoke) but under a very difficult constraint because the Supreme Court has already made a decision," said Lagman.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared a 60-day martial law in Mindanao on May 23, after clashes erupted between government troops and the terrorist Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in Marawi City. 

As gunfights reached day 22, Sen. JV Ejercito on Tuesday raised the possibility of Congress having to extend the president's declaration as the military faced difficulties in pursuing its offensive against the terrorists.