'Learn lessons of the past': Constitution framer rejects absolute power for one person

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 22 2022 11:11 AM | Updated as of Sep 22 2022 02:16 PM

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MANILA (UPDATED) — One of the framers of the 1987 Constitution on Thursday rejected a proposal for the sitting president to have sole power in declaring martial law.

As an "extraordinary power," martial law shall only be imposed as an urgency "for the survival of the state", said lawyer Christian Monsod. 

"Under the 1973 Constitution, walang checks and balance. Kung gusto lang ng presidente, he has absolute right to declare martial law, which he (dictator Ferdinand Marcos) did," he told ANC's "Rundown."

(Under the 1973 Constitution, there were no checks and balance. If the president wanted, he had absolute right to declare martial law.)

"We should learn 'yung lessons of the past on what happened when you put absolute power in the hands of one person. That cannot happen in a democracy," he added.

The Philippines on Wednesday marked 50 years since Marcos Sr. placed the country under military rule. 

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile, chief implementer of the Marcos martial law, urged the Senate to bring back the sole power of declaring military rule to the sitting president.

During a Senate hearing on charter change, Enrile said seeking Congress approval for martial law is detrimental to the nation's interest. He also proposed to bring back "imminent danger" among the constitutional provisions that allowed a president to place the country under military rule. 

Under the 1987 constitution, martial law can only be declared when there is rebellion or insurrection. It also gave Congress a say on whether the declaration is necessary or not.

Enrile defended the declaration of martial law despite documented abuses and human rights violations during the military rule period.

The late dictator's eldest daughter Sen. Imee Marcos also insisted in a press conference that the state has a right to impose martial law against those seeking to topple the government.

For Monsod, Marcos Sr. declared martial law in 1972 "in order to stay in power because his term was ending".

"'Yung sinasabi nilang in order to get stability, the opposite was what happened. We had instability because of the abuse of martial law powers by the President," he said.

(They say it was meant to get stability, but the opposite was what happened.)

Some 11,000 fell victim to state brutality during the 1972-1986 dictatorship, which include enforced disappearances, rape and mutilation. The period was also marred by rampant corruption. 

Meanwhile, constitutional law professor Tony La Viña said that it was "very clear" that the Philippines shouldn't revert to the 1935 Constitution.

He said that Enrile's proposal was "crazy," noting that the 1935 Constitution was an American constitution and the Philippines was still not independent at this time.

"It is not needed by the society. It is not needed by a democracy," he added.