Before Christmas last year, President Rodrigo Duterte expressed his disappointment with the provisions of the 1987 Constitution regarding the power of the President to declare martial law. As he correctly observed, while the President has the power to place the entire country or any part of it under martial law, the exercise of that power is, ultimately, subject to review by Congress, if it wishes to, and by the Supreme Court, upon a petition by any citizen, He opined that the proclamation of martial law should be the exclusive concern of the President as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
President Duterte’s disappointment is not without reason.
Under the 1987 Constitution, martial law is an option available to the President if there is an extraordinary threat to national security. When he resorts to martial law, the President acts, not as the chief law enforcer of the land, but as the commander-in-chief of the AFP. Because extraordinary problems require swift remedial action, constitutions traditionally vest the power to resort to martial law exclusively in the executive branch of the government.
The 1987 Constitution, however, requires Congress and allows the Supreme Court to intervene in this process. Unfortunately, Congress and the Supreme Court, because of their lack of actual knowledge about the true extent of the threat to national security, are not in a position to know the real score.
What happens if Congress and the Supreme Court differ as to whether or not martial law is warranted? Which branch will prevail? The deadlock will inevitably trigger a constitutional crisis, and trigger it at a time when it’s the last thing the country needs.
From a pragmatic perspective, therefore, the participation of Congress and the Supreme Court in the martial law equation appears to be superficial and even detrimental to national interest. Unfortunately, that is what the 1987 Constitution provides.
Those are the reasons why Duterte is disappointed.
As expected, the publicists of Vice President Leni Robredo denounced President Duterte’s statement, assumed that Duterte was threatening to declare martial law, and concluded that Duterte’s threat to declare martial law is the worse possible Christmas gift that can be given to the people.
Robredo’s camp also brazenly speculated that Duterte’s mere mention of martial law indicates that he will resort to it. She also sweepingly assumed that martial law under the 1987 Constitution is synonymous to one-man rule.
It is also disturbing to note that Robredo conveniently overlooked that President Duterte was merely speaking his mind, which is something well within his constitutional rights to do so.
Robredo’s media statements reveal that she believes that President Duterte has no right to express himself publicly. They also indicate that Robredo does not understand the 1987 Constitution.
Evidently, Robredo’s press statements merely reflect the views of her puppet masters in the Liberal Party, and their anti-Duterte and anti-Marcos allies in the 1986 Constitutional Commission (which drafted the 1987 charter) who insist that the 1987 Constitution is designed to prevent a return to what they call a “dictatorship.”
If that is so, then Robredo and her confederates have a lot of explaining to do.
First, if martial law is an evil that must be opposed by Robredo and her gang, why does the 1987 Constitution allow this “evil” in its provisions in the first place? Why does the 1987 Constitution vest in the President a power that is “evil” to begin with? More specifically, why does the 1987 Constitution vest in the President a power which, according to Robredo and her minions, the President should not exercise?
It is a basic postulate in Constitutional Law that the Constitution should not be interpreted in such a way that leads to absurdity. Vesting in the President the power to declare martial law, and equating martial law with evil, as Robredo and her hirelings insist, is absurd.
If, as claimed by the drafters of the 1987 Constitution, the 1987 charter is really designed to prevent a return to “dictatorship,” then why are Robredo and her simpletons so afraid of martial law under President Duterte? Would they feel more comfortable if it was martial law under another president, say a President Robredo?
Those opposed to martial law can urge their “representatives” in Congress to revoke its proclamation, or to limit its duration. They can also petition the Supreme Court to review the “sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law” as provided in the charter itself.
Even the language employed by the 1987 Constitution does not allow martial law to be in force indefinitely. What then is the basis for Robredo and her cabal to conclude that martial law is synonymous to one-man rule?
Parenthetically, the best way to find out if provisions of the Constitution actually work is to test them.
In May 2012, Chief Justice Renato Corona was ousted from office after being impeached by the House of Representatives and convicted by the Senate. That event was proof that the provisions of the Constitution regarding the removal from office of justices of the Supreme Court actually work!
Going back to martial law, how does one know if the provisions of the 1987 Constitution regarding the role of Congress and the Supreme Court, in the aftermath of a proclamation of martial law, actually work if those provisions aren’t put to the test?
Robredo is obviously eyeing the presidency in 2022. That’s what most vice presidents do during their incumbency anyway. Robredo’s principal shortcoming, however, is that she has only a three-year stint in the House of Representatives (and her bus rides to Bicol) as her record of public service. Worse, Robredo does not even understand the Constitution.
Like Robredo, incumbent Senator Manny Pacquiao does not understand the Constitution, but unlike Robredo, Pacquiao does not make reckless statements that may reveal his inability to comprehend the Constitution.
On that score at least, Pacquiao has an advantage over Robredo when they fight it out for the presidency in 2022.