Seares: New petition against martial law

HOW the Supreme Court decided the case of Lagman vs. Medialdea, particularly on the tribunal’s authority to review a declaration of martial law, is instructive enough.

The SC’s power to determine “factual basis” of President Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao is limited. The power of Congress to review the proclamation before it decides to revoke or extend is broader and deeper, yet legislators can choose to be partisan.

Powers compared

■ The SC is passive: it requires a citizen’s petition for it to act. The duty of Congress is automatic: its two houses are required to convene jointly for the task.

■ The court assesses only the data available to the president prior to or at the time the proclamation was made; it doesn’t look and has no power or resources to go “beyond the pleadings.” Congress inquires into past and present data as well as supervening events.

■ The SC determines only the probable cause, not the conclusive evidence, of a rebellion. Congress may check the president’s data against other sources to determine the scope and period of martial law to quell the rebellion.

Larger burden

The differences, highlighted by Ateneo School of Government dean Tony Laviña in an article for Rappler, must tell us uninitiated in the maze of constitutional law this glaring reality: Congress has much heavier burden than the tribunal in the oversight work.

An abdication? Not if it’s what really the Constitution intends. For now, that’s how the tribunal sees and defines its role.

In the earlier case of Fortun vs. Gloria Arroyo, involving then president GMA’s martial law in Maguindanao, the court cut out for itself an even more reduced duty. It would step in only if Congress would “procrastinate or fail” in its obligation to review. In Lagman vs. Medialdia, the SC now says its review is “different” from, and “independent” of, the congressional review.

Thorough, impartial

It sounds more comforting than the SC’s previous stance of being a backstop to Congress, yet what happens if their findings clash and Congress insists on its version?

But the situation could be worse than the House speaker berating the SC justices for its martial law finding.

Here’s why. With the SC admitting the limits to its capacity to review and Congress clearly obeying the dominant party’s whiplash, the court couldn’t do a thorough job and the legislature couldn’t make an impartial one.


So why bother with another lawsuit? Only 14 from the House minority voted “no” (against 254 “yes” votes) and of the 14, only four so far agreed to go to court. However doomed the purpose, the planned petition may revive and lengthen the public conversation about martial law.

Maybe then, the public will realize that despite restrictions on martial law under the 1987 Constitution, a president could still find cracks for authoritarian plans to creep in and defeat the framer’s intent.

The so-called safeguards may not work as well many of our leaders have thought in curbing excess or abuse of the emergency power.
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