By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star)
Photo: A majority or 11 of the 15 justices of the high court voted in regular session to dismiss the three consolidated petitions against Duterte’s decision to place the entire Mindanao under martial law through Proclamation 216. AP/Bullit Marquez, File
MANILA, Philippines - President Duterte’s martial law declaration that set into motion a bloody campaign to retake a city besieged by terrorists is definitely legal, the Supreme Court (SC) ruled yesterday.
A majority or 11 of the 15 justices of the high court voted in regular session to dismiss the three consolidated petitions against Duterte’s decision to place the entire Mindanao under martial law through Proclamation 216.
The proclamation set the stage for the battle to recapture Marawi City from Maute terrorists who are believed to have links to the Middle East-based Islamic State (IS). Aiding the Maute militants are Abu Sayyaf bandits led by Isnilon Hapilon.
More than 400 have been killed since the start of the siege of the predominantly Muslim city on May 23.
“The Court dismissed the petitions by a vote of 11 of its members; three members voted to partially grant the petitions and one member voted to grant the petitions,” SC spokesman Theodore Te said in a press conference. “That’s all I am authorized to announce.”
Petitioners wanted Proclamation 216 revoked for lack of necessary factual basis.
Te said only after all of the 15 magistrates have submitted their respective opinions on the case today would their opinions be made public.
SC sources said three of the justices believed martial law was justified only in Marawi: Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Alfredo Caguioa.
Only Justice Marvic Leonen believed there was no basis for martial law, the sources said.
The rest upheld Proclamation 216: Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires, Jose Mendoza, Diosdado Peralta, Bienvenido Reyes, Noel Tijam and Presbitero Velasco Jr.
While Te announced the outcome of the voting, he did not reveal details such as how each of the justices had voted.
President Duterte slammed those who did not uphold Proclamation 216.
“When you declare martial law, you have to use your coconut, the grey matter between your ears,” the President said in a chance interview in Bulacan, as he explained that the Mindanao-wide coverage was meant to prevent a spillover of the Maute threat.
At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the development has made Duterte more determined to end the “evil of terrorism” in Mindanao.
“He will not waver in this commitment to end rebellion, the evil of terrorism and to liberate Marawi. With the Supreme Court decision, the whole government now stands together as one against a common enemy,” Abella said.
In dismissing the petitions against martial law, Abella said the SC has acknowledged that ending the Marawi siege was a “shared responsibility” of everyone.
The Senate and the House of Representatives had earlier voiced support for martial law in Mindanao.
“The High Court has spoken: Proclamation 216 is constitutional. The President is sworn to protect the Filipino people,” Abella said.
“We ask the public to give their full support and cooperation to local authorities. After all, securing communities is a responsibility that must be shared by everyone,” he said.
Solicitor General Jose Calida said the SC, in its ruling, has affirmed the existence of a “real and present rebellion that threatens the lives of our fellow Filipinos in Mindanao, and their much-cherish liberties.”
Calida led the defense of Duterte’s proclamation before the high tribunal.
“I am grateful to the magistrates of the Honorable Supreme Court for allowing President Duterte to perform his prime duty of protecting the Filipino people,” Calida said in a statement.
“As the conscience of our nation, the Supreme Court did not sit idly to watch our country get dismembered. In fact, this decision shows that the Honorable Supreme Court is one with the President in protecting and defending our country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
“Finally, I implore the whole country to unite and pray that the bloody war in Mindanao will end the soonest. It is my fervent hope that stability and lasting peace be attained in the whole Mindanao,” Calida stressed.
During oral arguments last June 13 to 15, Calida argued that the attack of the Maute group was not just an act of terror, but a clear rebellion and a plot to establish an Islamic State in Mindanao.
Checks and balance
Vice President Leni Robredo said the SC’s decision was “an affirmation of the democratic set in our Constitution.”
“This is an important component of the mandated checks and balances to martial law,” Robredo said in a statement, referring to the SC ruling.
“We expect that Congress will likewise fulfill its constitutional duty to review, on behalf of the people, the declaration of martial law in Mindanao,” she said.
As expected, senators from the majority bloc welcomed the SC ruling.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said he had no doubt that Duterte “validly, with factual basis, declared martial law.”
“Nothing surprising with the SC decision. I actually expected that. The SC was just doing its job,” Pimentel said.
Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said the SC ruling has put to rest all questions on the legality of the martial law declaration. “It is time to show a united front against terrorism and lawless violence and, more importantly, begin the urgent work of rebuilding the communities in Marawi City,” he said.
“The intention is to contain the area of conflict and to put an end to the rebellion by the terrorist Maute group. No threat to basic freedom and Constitution is functioning. The real intent is to crush terrorism and rebellion, and nothing else,” Ejercito said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order, said the factual basis for the proclamation is clear enough “that there could not have been any other ruling as overwhelmingly decisive as the one rendered by the SC.”
“I knew we did right in supporting the martial law proclamation in Mindanao when we debated on it in caucus and in plenary,” Lacson said.
“I can only hope that none of our Senate colleagues will call the magistrates lapdogs and cowards of the administration,” he said, referring to Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV’s comment on fellow senators.
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said he felt relieved on learning of the decision as it could help government troops battle “these Maute terrorists and their affiliates, without a cloud of doubt on their mandate to do so.”
“The government must now focus and concentrate on getting rid of this menace in the whole of Mindanao and start the rehabilitation plan of all the affected areas so that we may achieve normalcy and ultimately economic development and inclusive growth in the region,” Zubiri said.
He cited the magistrates “who showed judicial probity, independence and progressive thinking in their exercise of judicial review powers.”
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said with the ruling, Duterte now has a free hand “to use all necessary means to crush the Maute terrorists, once and for all.”
“Now that the SC has spoken, it is time to set aside politics and work together in reclaiming Marawi and bringing the city back to its glory,” Gatchalian said.
Sen. Joel Villanueva also welcomed the ruling but stressed the need to consider the other issues raised in the decision, particularly the scope of the martial law declaration.
Sen. Richard Gordon said the benefits of the SC ruling would be truly felt after the elimination of the Maute group. “The winner must always be the people,” Gordon said.
He said it is time for the government to focus on “fixing the situation” in Marawi City and the rest of Mindanao.
“Now that the President has the support of the court and Congress, he should use that support, not to be overconfident, but certainly because we believe that there is a situation occurring in the country that must be solved,” Gordon said.
Sen. Sonny Angara said he went around Mindanao last week and talked with some evacuees, who told him they felt safe under martial law.
“I think the 1987 Constitution has enough safeguards to protect the people from possible abuses,” Angara said.
“We call on our government to fast-track all efforts to bring Marawi back to its feet. This crisis has resulted in human cost that cannot be calculated in pesos and we must ensure that normalcy in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Mindanao will be restored,” he said.
Senators also believe the favorable SC ruling would make it less difficult for Duterte to convince Congress to extend martial law beyond July 22.
Pimentel stressed the ruling only justified the declaration but not any extension of martial law, which he said was “possible.”
Gordon warned any unnecessary deadline to end martial law may do more harm than good, even as he believes that lawmakers will support an extension.
“Congress saw it, they called it, they approved it and because there’s a lot of people suffering there right now, it is in the interest of the country that we keep it there, we keep the fighting there and we must finish it there so it won’t spread,” he said. “I’m not confident that it will end soon.”
Villanueva stressed there are several issues that need to be clarified before martial law is expanded or extended.
“We have to ask what it has accomplished relative to the problem of terrorism in Mindanao,” he said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party, said that while he respects the ruling of the Supreme Court, he wanted Malacañang to consider the opinions of the three justices about limiting the scope of martial law to Marawi City.
House allies of President Duterte commended the Supreme Court for upholding the 60-day martial law.
House Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu, Reps. Karlo Alexei Nograles (Davao), Gus Tambunting (Parañaque), Alfred Vargas (Quezon City), Harry Roque (Kabayan), Joel Mayo Almario (Davao Oriental) and Aniceto Bertiz III (ACTS-OFW) all welcomed the ruling.
“It’s a very convincing and definitive ruling, not to mention an overwhelming one. We thank our esteemed magistrates for acknowledging the President’s powers, and that of Congress as well, being an independent and co-equal branch,” Abu said.
“This leaves no doubt that the decision of the President was correct and he should be commended for his swift and decisive action,” Nograles, chairman of the House committee on appropriations, said.
“The ruling is good for the country. It avoids a constitutional crisis. And it recognizes that the problem in Mindanao is complex, the solution to which is something that the judiciary must not impede the executive from achieving,” Tambuting maintained.
“I support the SC’s exercise of judicial restraint in its validation of Proclamation 216. I’m happy that it respected and acknowledged the information that is readily available to the executive, which the high tribunal does not have access to,” Roque stressed.
For his part, Almario said the SC verdict was “an expected decision.”
“The peace and order situation when martial law was declared called for it, and it squarely satisfied the conditions set forth by the 1987 Constitution,” he said.
“The timely declaration of martial law has once again showed the wisdom and determination of the President to curb extremism and lawlessness which will not only affect Maranaos but all Filipinos,” Bertiz emphasized. – With Paolo Romero, Marvin Sy, Helen Flores, Delon Porcalla, Christina Mendez