Seares: Why ‘yes’ to martial law: ‘Basta’

THE reasons that the few senators and House members who voted “no” last Wednesday (Dec. 13) to the extension of another rest on more solid ground:

-- The Constitution requires actual invasion or rebellion, not just a threat of invasion or rebellion;

-- The report of the armed forces on law and order in Mindanao does not justify, it even negates the call for, extending martial law;

-- The president can send out troops to quell other disturbances of peace and order;

-- Martial law is the last resort, an emergency measure that must be used sparingly;

-- It means disruption of governance, an abnormality in the social and economic condition.

Drowned out

Those arguments have been sounded in public forums, yet were not heard or were drowned out by the din of lawmakers out to please the political leaders. (The joint session vote: 240-27.)

Which was what happened when Congress gave the Mindanao martial law a fresh lease on life: comments of voters, at least in the House, were just filed with the House speaker. The Mindanao martial law, declared last May 23, was extended until Dec. 31 this year when its original six-month period expired last July 22. The next extension stretches it until Dec. 31, 2018.

Courtesy to colleagues

How about the reasons for voting “yes”? Let’s examine a few interesting explanations given by yes voters:

■ “Mindanao lawmakers are all for martial law. Parliamentary courtesy demands that colleagues from the rest of the country respect their decision.”

No, it doesn’t. On matters of local interest, specifically on “bills of local application,” yes, their wish -- say, for renaming a street or bridge or splitting a province into two -- is hardly questioned. But the issue of martial law is of national interest, as it affects the entire nation.

Trust in president

■ “The president may have information that lawmakers don’t know about. And I trust the president.”

In deciding to lift or extend martial law, Congress has the duty to determine whether it is in accordance with the Constitution. Thus, lawmakers are bound to examine the president’s report and may even seek additional information on the factual basis of the plea. Failing to do that is being remiss in their job.

Shortcuts

■ “To get things done, some shortcuts are needed even if they don’t follow the letter of the Constitution.”

This is precisely why there’s a Constitution: to help avoid an unwise decisions even by the people themselves or their representatives, the lawmakers. Limits in the Constitution bar them from committing the mistake sought to be avoided, especially on a grant of powers, which in martial law are justified only in an actual emergency, not just the threat of a coming emergency.

And the provision on martial law allows no shortcut, more so that this involves the spirit, not just the letter, of the Constitution. Rules are clear and specific to safeguard individual liberties and the nation’s institutions during a period of crisis.

‘Whatever’

Two men, after a number of drinks. argued over whether they should go home or stay longer in the bar. The louder of the two, unable to say why they should continue drinking and arguing, “Ngano? Basta.”

A number of lawmakers voted “yes” last Dec. 20 without bothering to give a plausible explanation. Why? Whatever, “basta.”
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