PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is entertaining the idea of declaring martial law in the entire Negros Oriental Province in view of the recent series of killings there. This was announced by the chief executive during the anniversary of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (Nica) and the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).
The police recorded more than 20 killings involving incumbent and former politicians, village officials, education officials and human rights lawyers. Four policemen were reportedly tortured and killed by communist insurgents in a mountain barangay in Ayungon town. Police blamed the New People’s Army (NPA) for the series of killings.
It’s no argument that under the Constitution, the President can declare or place the entire country or part thereof under martial law. But does the present situation in Negros Oriental warrant the declaration of a military rule?
Let us re-visit first the provision of the 1987 Constitution on the criteria or justification in placing the country or any part thereof under martial law. The Constitution says that “the President shall be the commander-in-chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion and rebellion.”
There are specific requirements before a President can declare martial law and this has to be done with the concurrence of Congress. According to Article 7, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution, this, and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus can only be done “in case of invasion and rebellion, when the public safety requires it.”
The President must also submit a report to Congress, whether in person or in writing, within 48 hours of the declaration. If Congress does not agree that martial law should be declared or the writ of habeas corpus suspended, it can, by voting jointly, or by a vote of at least a majority of all its members in regular or special session, revoke the proclamation or suspension.
No declaration of martial law or the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus can last more than 60 days unless a majority in Congress, again voting jointly, vote to extend it if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it. The proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the writ may be reviewed by the Supreme Court for sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation or suspension if a citizen petitions it. It has 30 days to decide on whether the declaration or suspension has a basis.
I am not an expert political analyst, but for me the situation in Negros Oriental does not warrant the declaration of martial law. The peace and order situation is quite different in Mindanao, which Duterte placed under martial law when the Maute Group, an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis)-inspired group, attacked Marawi City. In fact, Congress has supported the declaration and no less than the Supreme Court ruled in favor of its legality. In the Mindanao situation, there exists “rebellion” by Muslim extremist armed groups. In the Negros Oriental situation, on the other hand, even the police said the killings were isolated situations because the incidents happened not in a specific place, but in various places. The deteriorating peace and order situation can be addressed by police action. It’s purely a police matter.
I agree with the Commission on Human Rights that its declaration will just complicate the matter. Let the police solve the killings and not a complete military takeover.