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Martial Law in Mindanao: The Press Steps Up | CMFR

Martial Law in Mindanao: The Press Steps Up


Screengrab from Rappler’s Facebook page.


MARTIAL LAW is something the Philippine press takes very seriously. The journalists and media agencies that survived its ravages from the ‘70s to the ‘80s take pride in their role in helping the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship. A generation of journalists who covered – and suffered – under martial law are now running many newsrooms in the Philippines.

So when President Rodrigo Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law on May 23, much of the mainstream press rose to the challenge not so much in opposing it but reporting it, explaining it, and making sense of it for a new generation of Filipinos that have little or no idea how it was during those dark years of military rule.

Duterte’s martial law was in response to the firefight between members of the ISIS-linked Maute group and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Marawi City. Three weeks since the military asserted that the situation was under control, the fighting rages on.

As of June 8 more than 200 people have been killed in the fighting: 134 suspected members of the Maute Group, 20 civilians and 38 government forces. More than 220,000 persons have been displaced by the fighting.

Media reportage on martial law and the Marawi conflict has so far been informative and extensive. The stories ranged from pieces explaining martial law, the grounds allowed by the 1987 Constitution, to what rights and liberties citizens continue to retain during martial rule.

Here are some of the pieces:

Explaining Martial Law,” VERA Files

Martial Law: Mga dapat mong malaman,” news.abs-cbn.com

 A look into Duterte’s reasons for martial law in Mindanao,” Philstar.com

Is there a basis to declare martial law in Mindanao?CNNPhilippines.com

Questions you need to ask about martial law in Mindanao,” Rappler

Martial law untruths,” Philippine Daily Inquirer

This is not the first time that martial law has been declared since 1986. In 2009, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared martial law over the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato City. It was prompted by the Ampatuan Massacre, in which 58 persons were killed, 32 of them media workers. The declaration lasted for a week.

Not Unchallenged

While Duterte’s martial law declaration enjoyed popular support, it has not gone unchallenged, especially because of the perception among many Filipinos that the one branch of government that should check potential abuses –Congress – have been remiss in its duty. Under Section 18, Article VII of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, Congress has the power to review a martial law declaration and “voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President.”

On May 31, the Senate and the House of Representatives opted not to call for a joint session to review Proclamation 216. Instead, both chambers issued separate resolutions endorsing Proclamation 216 instead of reviewing it.

Under the Constitution, martial law will last for 60 days, unless extended by Congress. The President may also revoke it earlier — as Arroyo did — or the Supreme Court, acting on a petition filed before it, decides to strike it down. Some columns provided critical insights on the matter, discussing the implications (“Time to be more vigilant,” The Philippine Star) and the factual basis of martial law (“How Powerful Congress is,” Philippine Daily Inquirer).

A Brief Guide to Martial Law under the 1987 Constitution


THIS developing story puts the power of the President to declare martial law under the spotlight, as well as the duties of the different institutions to check and review this power. Here are quick facts about the President’s power:

1. The presidential power to declare martial law or suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is embodied in Article VII, Sec. 18 of the 1987 Constitution. Previous Constitutions (1935 and 1973) contained similar provisions. The only difference is that the 1987 Constitution provided more safeguards such as the 60-day maximum period and the review by Congress and the Supreme Court.

2. The Constitution listed only two grounds for invoking this power: invasion or rebellion. Both grounds are further qualified by the phrase, “when public safety so requires.” The Constitution did not define rebellion. However, there is a definition in the Revised Penal Code that Duterte’s Proclamation 216 used.

3. The review process begins with the transmission of a report by the President to Congress, which must be done within 48 hours from the declaration of martial law. On May 24, Duterte personally transmitted a copy of Proclamation 216 to Congress.

It should be noted that if it is not in session, Congress must convene with 24 hours from the declaration of martial law.

Congress has the power to revoke, suspend or extend the declaration. The Constitution does not provide any limitation as to the length of the extension. Thus, it could be indefinite.

4. The Supreme Court’s power to review is triggered by the filing of a petition questioning the factual basis of the proclamation. The Supreme Court must resolve this petition within 30 days from filing.

5. A state of martial law does not give unfettered power to the President. The 1987 Constitution clearly says: ”A state of martial law does not suspend the operation of the Constitution, nor supplant the functioning of the civil courts or legislative assemblies, nor authorize the conferment of jurisdiction on military courts and agencies over civilians where civil courts are able to function, nor automatically suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.”

Also, only those charged with rebellion or invasion are affected with the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. Even when the privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus is suspended, those arrested or detained must still be charged — or released — within three days.

6. This is the second time that a president declared martial law since 1986. The first was in December 2009, when then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo placed Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and the City of Cotabato under martial law. Petitions were filed before the Supreme Court asking the nullification of Proclamation 1959. Arroyo withdrew it after eight days, before either Congress or the Supreme Court could properly review the declaration. The Supreme Court dismissed the petitions in the case of Fortun v. Macapagal-Arroyo for being moot and academic.

Two petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court, one questioning the factual basis for the declaration of martial law, the other asking the High Court to compel Congress to convene as one bodyand review the proclamation. Under the 1987 Constitution, the Court has to decide the case within 30 days from the filing of the petition.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has already said he was ready to disobey the Supreme Court should it issue a decision compelling Congress to convene jointly. Such arrogant posturing notwithstanding, the institutions mandated to check executive power seems to be working for now. But the press, whose mandate includes stepping in to take the mantle of upholding public interest when other institutions fail, cannot afford to lower its guard. Journalists know better than most Filipinos that a repeat of the abuses of martial law would be catastrophic for civil liberties, human rights and democracy.