Constitution framer accuses Duterte of 'deliberate confusion' in justifying martial law extension

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 12) — One of the framers of the 1987 Constitution accused President Rodrigo Duterte of "deliberate confusion" in justifying the extension of martial law in Mindanao for another year.

"He seems to say it got worse, but at the same time he says it has gotten better," former 1986 Constitutional Commission member Christian Monsod told CNN Philippines' The Source on Wednesday. "I think it is deliberate confusion."

Monsod said the Supreme Court (SC) should revisit the factual basis for the continued implementation of martial law in Mindanao, which has been in effect since May 2017.

"I hope that the justices really think more deeply about the country and not whether it's best at this time to please a president," he said.


Former Constitutional Commission member Christian Monsod says President Rodrigo Duterte made contradictory statements in justifying his request for another one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao.

Monsod says the Supreme Court (SC) should revisit the factual basis for the declaration and extension of martial law, which has been questioned by opposition lawmakers.

He says previous decisions of the SC upholding the declaration and extension of martial law are 'dangerous' and would allow the president to declare a nationwide martial law.

He adds that Duterte could not extend his original martial law declaration as the situation has already changed.

Monsod also says that the remaining terrorist forces in Mindanao could be quelled without martial law as Duterte could simply call out the military to suppress their activities.

An overwhelming majority of the SC has thrice upheld the imposition of martial law in the southern Philippines. Monsod, who was among the petitioners against the extension of martial law, said the High Court had "totally deferred" to the President on the sufficiency of the factual basis for declaring and extending martial law.

He said the SC's previous decisions siding with the declaration and extension of martial law are "dangerous" as it would allow the president to declare martial law "anywhere, anytime in the Philippines."

Monsod added that Duterte could not extend his May 2017 martial law declaration when the situation in Mindanao had changed.

"It's been 15 months in this clearing operations, are we saying that there is a new set of rebellion that is now in place? Then, you are not talking about extension, you are talking about a reimplementation of martial law," Monsod said.

The inclusion of other local terror groups and communist rebels in the second extension of martial law in November 2017 was among the issues raised in petitions against it before the SC.

However, the SC ruled that the government "alluded to" the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Turaifie Group in its martial law report, even if it did not specifically name them. It also said the communist New People's Army "hardly distinguish its rebels from the architects of the Marawi siege."

Citing its previous decision to uphold the extension of martial law up until the end of 2017, the SC said that it should not "expect absolute correctness of the facts stated in the proclamation and in the written report as the President could not be expected to verify the accuracy and veracity of all facts reported to him due to the urgency of the situation."

The 1987 Constitution, drafted after the fall of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos who implemented a brutal martial rule, put safeguards on the president's power to declare martial law, including the requirement of the concurrence of a majority of Congress and the ability of any Filipino to challenge the factual basis of the declaration before the SC.

Opposition lawmakers have questioned the factual basis for the continued implementation of martial law, as they say that rebellion has ceased in Mindanao, especially after Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi City, which was besieged by the ISIS-inspired Maute group in May 2017.

However, leaders of both Houses have expressed their inclination to grant Duterte's request to extend martial law anew.

"I think they (security officials) were really able to provide very compelling reason for us to really consider the extension," Senate President Tito Sotto said. "In my opinion, there is a continuing rebellion, there is actual rebellion happening."

Martial law not needed

Even with the liberation of Marawi and the substantial gains claimed by the government in the past one and a half years of the imposition of martial law in Mindanao, Duterte still cited the threat of local terrorist groups and communist rebels in asking Congress to extend martial law for the third time, saying these constitute a "continuing rebellion" in Mindanao.

READ: Duterte to Congress: Don't give rebels a chance to strengthen forces

But he also said that security forces have neutralized 685 members of local terrorist groups, 1,073 members of communist rebels, dismantled seven guerilla fronts and weakened 19 others and saw an "unprecedented number" of surrendered lose firearms, which all led to "remarkable economic gains in Mindanao."

"Notwithstanding these gains, the security assessment submitted by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the PNP (Philippine National Police) highlights certain essential facts which indicate that rebellion still persists in Mindanao and that public safety requires the continuation of martial law in the whole of Mindanao," Duterte said.

The PNP, AFP and the Defense department said that there are still remaining terrorist forces in the southern Philippines, which they hope to wipe out in a year while martial law is in effect.

But Monsod said the government would be able to do this without martial law as Duterte can simply call out security forces to suppress terrorists, as provided in the Constitution. He also belied the government's claim that the continued presence of terrorists constitutes actual rebellion.

"It's not solutions in a cupboard that you choose martial law. Martial law must be the ultimate resort in order to address actual rebellion," Monsod said.

He cited the 1989 coup as an example, where President Cory Aquino did not declare martial law and instead called on the military to suppress the uprising.

"It's in the judicious restraint of the use of executive power, extraordinary power, that upholds and strengthens our democratic institutions," Monsod said.

Under Article VII, Section 18 of the Constitution, the president may call out the military to "prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion."

It also says that the president may also declare martial law and suspend the writ of habeas corpus, which safeguards against warrantless arrests, "in case of rebellion or invasion, when public safety requires it."

Monsod said the continued push to extend martial law beyond the initial 60-day period set by the Constitution is a "throwback to 1972," when martial rule was considered as the ultimate solution to the country's problems.

In a joint session, the Senate, voting 12-5 with one abstention, and the House, voting 223-23, decided to grant Duterte's request for another extension of martial law in Mindanao.