DRUG money is now funding the protracted rebellion and new threats in Mindanao, a senior Cabinet official said Sunday, citing intelligence reports.
In an interview, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo used these reports to defend President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, saying this would be an effective measure to curb the spread of criminality.
“In the sense that we’ve been identifying all those involved [in the illegal drug trade], yes we’re making headway. But… we haven’t stopped it altogether,” Panelo told the ANC news channel.
“There have been intelligence reports that drug money is being used to fund or finance the rebellion in Mindanao, as well as the terrorism by the Abu Sayyaf. Therefore under the Constitution, in case of invasion or rebellion, the President… can suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus,” Panelo said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, meanwhile, said that the President raised the possibility of suspending the writ of habeas corpus because of threats monitored in certain parts of Mindanao, but did not offer any specifics.
“I believe it is due to the continuing lawlessness in central Mindanao and the kidnapping in the high seas in Basilan and Sulu,” Lorenzana told Manila Standard in a text message.
On Friday night, Duterte said he may be forced to suspend the writ of habeas corpus if lawlessness in Mindanao continues.
The writ of habeas corpus grants a person the right to question in court any instance of unlawful detention. The President, under the 1987 Constitution, may suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus only in cases of invasion or rebellion and when public safety requires it.
The country is still under a state of lawless violence, after the deadly Davao night market bombing in September that claimed 15 lives and injured more than 60 others.
Panelo admitted that the country’s slow judicial system is one of the reasons the President is considering suspending the writ of habeas corpus.
“If you have 10,000 people involved in the drug menace, you have to file cases against them and you need to secure warrants of arrest as well as search warrants. Now, you have a problem there, it will take you an eternity,” Panelo said.
The Palace official said that Duterte might not proceed with his plan is if lawless elements “would surrender to the authorities.”
He also said suspending the writ of habeas corpus proved effective in curbing criminality during the Marcos regime.
“During Marcos’ time, the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus was suspended and it was effective during that time to fight the communist rebellion and other criminal elements.”
Panelo added that Duterte was considering suspending the writ if “there is no other available remedy,” adding that he was unlikely to declare Martial Law.
But Senator Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, said the Supreme Court would surely shoot down the idea because the Duterte administration would be contradicting itself.
“It doesn’t speak well of the PNP’s war against illegal drugs and criminality,” said Lacson in response to a question about the possible suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
Such a move, he said, would mean the police are losing the war against illegal drugs and criminality amid their declaration that crime went down 49 percent.
“Because the police said, and we believe them since they showed us the statistics, that the index crimes dropped by more than 40 percent. But now they’re talking about the need to suspend the writ of habeas corpus due to a state of lawlessness. That’s a big blow. It doesn’t speak well of the efforts of the PNP to curb criminality,” Lacson said over radio dzBB Sunday.
While the President has the power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, Lacson said he was certain the move would be questioned before the Supreme Court.
At the same time, Lacson said the killing by the Abu Sayyaf of a German woman and abduction of her companion from their yacht last week was “an isolated case.”
“The military says it is winning against the Abu Sayyaf. If they make that the reason for suspending the writ of habeas corpus, it’s like saying the military is losing to the Abu Sayyaf,” he added in Filipino.
Lacson said although suspension of the writ can only run 60 days at most, “a lot of things can already happen within that span of time.” Numerous warrants of arrest could suddenly be issued as a result, he added.
But Lacson said he has learned not to take Duterte’s statements literally and said his declaration could have been a form of “psy war” against the criminals.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II played down reports that Duterte might suspend the writ of habeas corpus, saying it was probably hyperbole to scare drug traffickers.
“That is the nature of the President. He is fond of hyperbole but he really doesn’t intend to do those [warnings]. Maybe he was just thinking out loud when he said that he will go as far as suspending the writ of habeas corpus if the drug syndicates won’t stop,” Aguirre said in a phone interview.
The Justice secretary said the President, being a lawyer, is aware of the legal requisites for suspending the writ of habeas corpus, which protects the rights of citizens against unlawful or arbitrary detention by the government.
“The President is aware that he cannot just declare such suspension of the writ of habeas corpus just because of state of lawlessness. There has to be either actual rebellion or invasion of the country,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre said the President knew about this limitation in the aftermath of the deadly bombing in Davao City last September that left 15 killed and dozens injured.
“You cannot say that there was rebellion at that time. There was also no invasion in Mindanao at that time,” he said.
Duterte critic Senator Leila de Lima agreed with Lacson that the President should stop toying with the idea of suspending the writ of habeas corpus, saying it was a desperate attempt to legitimize his administration’s “flawed” war on illegal drugs.
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