SC ruling: Duterte has power to expand martial law coverage

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 6) — In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court (SC) had stood by President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of martial law in the entire of Mindanao.

In throwing out the three consolidated petitions questioning the legality of Proclamation No. 216, the high court checked the basis for martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the south.

In the copy of the ruling obtained by CNN Philippines on Wednesday, the SC said there was "factual basis" for the Duterte's proclamation due to the existence of rebellion.

"Based on the foregoing, we hold that the parameters for the declaration of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus have been properly and fully complied with. Proclamation No. 216 has sufficient factual basis there being probable cause to believe that rebellion exists and that public safety requires the martial law declaration and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus," the ruling read.

RELATED: Supreme Court upholds martial law in Mindanao

The decision said the President had the power to decide where martial law should be implemented, which could pave the way for the expansion of the area covered by the proclamation.

"The Constitution grants him the prerogative whether to put the entire Philippines or any part thereof under martial law. There is no constitutional edict that martial law should be confined only in the particular place where the armed public uprising actually transpired," it said.

The high court was convinced Marawi was only the staging point of a rebellion meant for the whole of Mindanao.

The majority of the magistratges said they could not simply disregard the Davao City bombing, Mamasapano massacre, Zamboanga siege, and countless bombings in Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sulu, and Basilan, among others.

"Marawi may not be the target but the whole of Mindanao," it said.

The high bench also mentioned the possibility of extending martial law beyond 60 days.

"Until now the Court is in a quandary and can only speculate whether the 60-day lifespan of Proclamation no. 216 could outlive the present hostilities in Mindanao," the ruling read.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the President may declare martial law for up to 60 days in case of invasion of rebellion and when public safety requires it. The proclamation is set to expire on July 22.

Senators have said an extension of the martial law declaration was  probable if the Marawi crisis remained unsolved. Duterte earlier said he would extend martial law if warranted by the situation.

Eleven SC justices on July 4 voted to junk the three consolidated petitions against the declaration of martial law, three others voted to partially uphold the proclamation within a limited area of coverage, while only one justice was in favor to grant the petition to lift martial law for lack of factual basis. At least eight votes were needed to nullify the martial law declaration.


Martial law in Mindanao and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was declared by Duterte via Proclamation No. 216 on May 23 following the clash in Marawi City between government troops and local terror group Maute. The fighting continues into its 45th day with government taking control of most of Marawi City despite a protracted battle with dozens of Maute gunmen.

Dissenting opinions

The Supreme Court noted the "The Battle of Marawi" could not be taken in isolation, but three justices pushed for limited martial law coverage.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio wanted it confined to the conflict-torn Marawi.

"Moreover, sporadic bombings in other areas of Mindanao outside of Marawi City, in the absence of an armed public uprising against the government and sans an intent to remove from allegiance to the government the areas where the bombings take place, cannot constitute actual rebellion," he said in his dissenting opinion.

He argued bombings in other areas of Mindanao on its own, did not constitute rebellion.

"Based on the foregoing, actual rebellion and the endangerment of public safety took place and may still be taking place in three provinces: Sulu, Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao," Carpio said.

Contrary to the majority opinion, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno noted the territorial boundaries of martial law could be defined, saying it should only cover Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and Sulu.

The chief justice explained the Maute group originated from Lanao del Sur, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters was from Maguindanao, while members of the Abu Sayyaf were largely from Sulu.

Associate Justice Alfred Benjamin Caguioa agreed with Sereno.

The lone dissenting Associate Justice, Marvic Leonen, pointed out those committing atrocities in Marawi were not rebels but terrorists. He added the Maute group lacked the numbers and sophistication to mount a rebellion.

"They are committing acts of terrorism. They are not engaged in political acts of rebellion. They do not have the numbers nor do they have the sophistication to be able to hold ground," Leonen said.

Related: Lone dissenting Supreme Court Justice: Exorcise ghost of Marcos martial law

Despite their differences, the decision penned by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo called for unity with a plea to set aside differences and prejudices in order to defeat the enemy.


Below is the full Supreme Court ruling: