Cabaero: Martial law debate shows Charter flaws

THE extension of martial law by vote of the joint session of Congress reveals the need to strengthen constitutional safeguards.

During the televised deliberation of the Senate and the House of Representatives last Saturday, questions were raised on the grounds for the imposition of martial law, the reasons for an extension, and the manner of voting in joint session.

The Constitution says that, “In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, (the President) may, for a period not exceeding 60 days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.” Some House members asked if the Marawi situation could be considered an invasion or rebellion.

The constitutional provision outlining grounds for imposing martial law may be expanded, through amendment, to cover threats from terrorist groups inside or outside the Philippines.

Then, for those in favor of an extension of the martial law order, they differed on how much extension should be granted – 60 days from Saturday or until December 31, 2017. An improvement in the law could introduce a graduated extension or set a maximum period, depending on the reason for the original martial law declaration.

The Constitution leaves an open-ended extension stating only, “Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.”

These issues – the inclusion of terrorism as basis in a declaration of martial law and the maximum extension allowable – should be considered in any campaign to amend the Constitution to reflect certain realities. A democracy allows the changing of provisions in an imperfect Constitution.

I remember a line in the movie “With Honors” done in 1994 where the protagonist was asked about the Constitution. The character, Simon Wilder, responded to a question by a Professor Pitkannan.

(From the Internet Movie Database at www.imdb.com on quotes from the movie.)

Simon Wilder: You asked the question, sir, now let me answer it. The beauty of the Constitution is that it can always be changed. The beauty of the Constitution is that it makes no set law other than faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves.

“Professor Pitkannan: Faith in the wisdom of the people is exactly what makes the Constitution incomplete and crude.

“Simon Wilder: Crude? No, sir. Our ‘founding parents’ were pompous, white, middle-aged farmers, but they were also great men. Because they knew one thing that all great men should know: that they didn’t know everything. Sure, they’d make mistakes, but they made sure to leave a way to correct them. The president is not an ‘elected king,’ no matter how many bombs he can drop. Because the ‘crude’ Constitution doesn’t trust him. He’s just a bum. Okay, Mr. Pitkannan? He’s just a bum.”
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