PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte threatened to jail critics of his declaration of martial law in Mindanao, days before the Supreme Court is set to rule on its legality this week.
Duterte declared military rule across the region of Mindanao, home to about 20-million people, in late May to quell what he said was a fast-growing threat from the Islamic State group there.
Duterte has insisted he would ignore the findings of the Court, which has constitutional oversight, vowing only to listen to recommendations from the Armed Forces.
“It’s not dependent on the whim of the Supreme Court. Should I believe them? When I see the situation is still chaotic and you ask me to lift it? I will arrest you and put you behind bars,” Duterte said in a speech before local officials on Saturday.
“We can talk of anything else and make compromises maybe but not when the interest of my country is at stake.”
He said he saw no problem in declaring martial law when terrorists were killing and beheading Christians and Muslims alike.
“When is the time to lift martial law?” he said. “I will ask the military and the police, is it safe now? And then when the chief of staff and the PNP would say, everybody is safe and it’s okay now, then I will lift [martial law],” he said.
Government forces are continuing to battle militants occupying the city of Marawi, with aerial bombardment and ferocious street-to-street combat that has left some 400 people dead and forced nearly 400,000 people in the wider area to flee their homes.
Duterte has faced a backlash from opposition lawmakers, who last month asked the Supreme Court to reject the declaration of martial law, which they have slammed as unconstitutional.
The 1987 Constitution imposes limits on martial law to prevent a repeat of the abuses under dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was deposed by a famous “People Power” revolution in 1986.
The charter allows the Supreme Court to review the factual basis for proclaiming martial law, which is limited to an initial period of 60 days. If a president decides to extend martial law, Congress can review and revoke it.
The Supreme Court is expected to resolve on Tuesday the consolidated petitions seeking to nullify the President’s declaration of martial law.
The consolidated petitions seeking to invalidate the President’s martial law declaration on the grounds that there is no factual basis for it.
The first of the three petitions was filed June 5 by a group of opposition lawmakers led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman. Two similar petitions filed by local Mindanao leaders led by lumad leader Eufemia Campos Cullamat and a group of women from Marawi led by Norkaya Mohamad followed shortly afterwards.
This means that the Supreme Court must promulgate its decision by July 5, Wednesday.
A Court insider said some justices have already submitted their opinions, and that the drafts indicated a divided Court.
During oral arguments from June 13 to 15, the petitioners asked the Court to void the martial law declaration because there was no sufficient factual basis to justify martial law. Information cited in the proclamation, they added, were “false, inaccurate and contrived.”
They also alleged that a key element in act of rebellion—culpable purpose of removing allegiance from the Philippines and preventing the President and legislature from exercising their functions—was not present in the attack of the Maute terrorist group in Marawi City last May 23 that triggered martial law proclamation.
Solicitor General Jose Calida, for his part, defended the martial law declaration before the Court.
Calida argued that the attack of Maute group was not just an act of terror, but was a clear rebellion and actually part of a plot to establish an Islamic State in Mindanao.
He said that elements of rebellion—taking up arms against the government and culpable purpose of removing allegiance from the government—were present in the crisis that required the President to use his power of declaring martial law under the Constitution.
The chief state lawyer cited links between Maute and other rebel groups in Mindanao like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Abu Sayyaf.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, martial law administrator, and Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año, martial law implementor, presented confidential information to the justices to justify the need to declare martial law in closed-door session.
In its memorandum, the Office Of The Solicitor General listed 20 terrorist groups in Mindanao with similar ties with Islamic State—apart from the Maute Group—that have already launched attacks in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga and Davao and its main objective is to remove the whole Mindanao from its allegiance to the Philippine government.
Calida also said there were already 43 violent attacks by the terror cells consisting mostly of improvised explosive devices, harassments and kidnappings
“As the survival of the State hangs in the balance, I implore the Honorable Supreme Court to sustain the constitutionality of Proclamation No. 216, and allow the President to perform his constitutional mandate of protecting the people,” he appealed.
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