THERE is no basis for declaring martial law, senators said Monday, with one comparing President Rodrigo Duterte’s threats to impose military rule to “a dog that always barks but seldom bites.”
“We should know by now that such theatrical bombast is part of the President’s oratorical repertoire,” said Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto, who was reacting to Duterte’s declaration Saturday night that if he wanted to declare martial law, nobody could stop him.
That threat, Recto said, should be filed under Duterte’s outlandish threats, like riding a jet ski to the Spratlys or feeding the fish of Manila Bay with the bodies of criminals.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon cautioned the administration against making such statements.
“We call on the administration to exercise prudence in making public statements that are very disturbing and could create undue fear and tension,” Drilon said.
In his speech Saturday night, the President said: “I have to protect the Filipino people. It’s my duty. And I tell you now, if I have to declare martial law, I will declare it. Not about invasion, insurrection, not about danger. I will declare martial law to preserve my nation, period. I don’t care about the Supreme Court. Because the right to preserve one’s life, and my nation, my country, transcends everything else, even the limitations.”
But Drilon said the Constitution only allows the declaration of martial law when there is actual invasion or rebellion and when public safety requires it. These two requisites must be present, he said.
Drilon also chided the President’s communications team for accusing the media of misreporting the President’s remarks.
“The way I see it, the news reports were devoid of any interpretation by the media,” he said, adding that the reports were based on the President’s speech and the statements were quoted verbatim.
“We should not blame the press for reporting what the President said,” Drilon said.
A clarification from the Palace, he said, would have been unnecessary if prudence was exercised in the first place.
“The truth is, mere talk of martial law is enough to send chills to the spine of any Filipino. Therefore, it is something that should not be taken lightly,” said Drilon, noting that a recent Pulse Asia survey showed that 74 percent of Filipinos are against the imposition of military rule.
Recto said neither of the requisites for martial law—an actual invasion or rebellion—exists.
“And as the President himself likes to brag, crime is down and the people are safe in their homes and communities,” he added.
Recto said the real enemies of the people–joblessness, hunger and poor social services—cannot be suppressed by the Armed Forces.
He also rejected the assertion of the President that the declaration of martial law is a unilateral act of the chief executive. He insisted that this claim has no legal basis.
He said the Constitution, which the President had sworn to uphold in his oath of office, empowers Congress to revoke it.
“It is also subject to Supreme Court review, and if to last more than 60 days, to congressional concurrence.”
He described martial law a cure worse than the perceived disease. “At a time when we project stability to reel in tourists and investors, a martial law declaration will show the opposite,” he said.
“The problems we face today do not require the calling in of the army. We do not burn the house down to kill a few rats.”
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a staunch critic of Duterte, said all freedom-loving Filipinos should be prepared to fight another dictator. He said soldiers should also start reviewing their constitutional mandate.
Senator Francis Pangilinan warned of further divisiveness if martial law is imposed. He said this would not provide a solution, but rather, would add to the existing problems.
“People despised martial law and the ousted dictator. The country would further be divided if they insist on martial law,” said the senator, who is president of the Liberal Party.
“What the people are looking for are solutions to the increase in prices of basic commodities, additional wages and job and not dictatorship or martial rule,” he added.
Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said Duterte’s vacillating statements on martial law create uncertainty and fear among Filipinos.
Just last month, Duterte declared that placing the country under martial law was far from his mind, adding that Filipino lives did not improve under military rule during the Marcos regime.
Before that, he said he wanted to amend the Constitution to make it easier for the President to declare martial law, without having to answer to Congress or the Supreme Court.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, a key Duterte ally, said the President would not declare martial law without consulting various stakeholders.
“Don’t worry about a martial law declaration. I’m sure the President would make a lot of consultations before doing that. And he will be reminded about the constitutional provisions about martial law,” Pimentel said.
In the House of Representatives, Duterte’s allies defended his pronouncement, while the opposition urged him to stop making such threats.
“President Duterte has to stop making threats about declaring martial law,” said Akbayan party-list Rep. Tom Villarin.
Villarin, a member of the opposition, said Duterte’s “virulent drug problem” would never be a justification for declaring martial law.
“What drives him to repeatedly raise that threat?” Villarin asked.
“Surveys show our people reject martial law. People are saying that poverty is the main problem not drugs. The police are saying they have been successful in the war against drugs. Business groups want political stability and not martial law for our economy to improve. The Mindanao and Bangsamoro concern is for a just and lasting peace. So, is the President saying that all of them are wrong?” Villarin added.
Reps. Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte and Fred Castro of Capiz said Congress will exercise its power to review the declaration of martial law if the President declares it.
“The President was right when he said no one can stop him from declaring martial law anytime he wishes to declare it. But the declaration on martial law will be reviewed thoroughly by Congress to find out if such a declaration has basis and is in accordance with the Constitution,” Castro, a House deputy speaker, said.
Castro stressed that martial law is only effective within 60 days after its declaration, and that only Congress has the power to extend the duration.
But Barbers said he supported martial law because he knows the President will not abuse his powers.
He added that if Duterte declares martial law, it would be “for the good of the country and our people.”
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, who jumped from the Liberal Party to the President’s PDP-Laban after Duterte won the election, said the definition of “rebellion” might be “stretched” to include the war on drugs.
“This is probably something that the committee on dangerous drugs... should look into: how far has this drug problem gone. Whether this has escalated into a level where this is something that even government now is unable to handle,” Umali told reporters at a news conference.
“And so if that is the case, we may be able to stretch the definition of rebellion when these members of drug syndicates are already effectively rebelling on government to the point that it has already taken over some of the government machineries,” Umali added.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said Duterte won’t declare martial law because he is actually against it.
“It was just an expression of anger from the President. He was exasperated by the continuous illegal drug operations in the country despite intensified efforts by the government,” Aguirre said in a text message.
The Justice secretary said the remarks were “understandable” and urged the media and the public not to “make a fuss” about it anymore.
“The public and the media should not be surprised and rather be already accustomed to this mindset of the President,” he said.
He added that Duterte “loathed martial law” because it did not improve people’s lives under Marcos.
Earlier, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar attacked the press for “misreporting” the President’s remarks to “sow panic and confusion.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines quickly slammed Andanar for his “utterly dishonest tack” of blaming the media for the President’s statements.
“We do understand the difficulty of trying to decipher your principal’s words preserved on video, including footage from your own RTVM. But we admit being in awe of such loyalty and dedication as yours, which would not hesitate to denounce even your very own outfit—RTVM—for engaging in what you call ‘the height of journalistic irresponsibility’ by accurately recording his message,” the NUJP said in a statement directly addressing Andanar.
NUJP said it was not the press, but Duterte himself who was sowing panic.
Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa said they would support the President if he declares martial law.
“By all means, we will support the President if he declares it, but I doubt if he will declare it. He said that maybe because of frustration over the situation,” Dela Rosa said in a briefing.
An Armed Forces spokesman said the military is reluctant to recommend any kind of martial rule. With Sandy Araneta, Rey E. Requejo and Francisco Tuyay
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