Monday, July 13, 2009


There is a talk going around recently that because of several bombing incidents in some parts of Mindanao the “little girl” (If I may use the phrase of my constitutional law professor.) from Malacanang might impose martial law in no time. The charge, according to news reports is that the President is out to use the bombing incidents in Mindanao and the heightened alert in the metropolis to declare a state of national emergency. From there, it will eventually lead to the declaration of martial law. What is the catch then? Well, I think what the opposition is trying to say is that by declaring martial law the President can stay in power beyond her term. Surely if this will happen, we will be facing a “No-El” scenario come May 2010. The administration however strongly denied this speculation claiming that this is just another propaganda spearheaded by the opposition to cast the President once more in a bad light. In a press interview, Secretary Remonde assured the public that the government can solve the bombings without declaring martial law. I’m sure they can, but are we suppose to trust Arroyo administration nowadays following the Conass fiasco? I think not. Call me a pessimist, but this administration has an unusual hobby of tinkering with the constitution not only once but many times! Personally, like my conviction against the notorious HR 1109, I am not inclined to give this administration the benefit of the doubt on this issue as well.

Propaganda or not, the clear import of all this is for us to examine the constitutional safeguards in place whenever the “Commander-in-chief” so decides to declare martial law under the auspices of the 1987 Constitution.

History tells us that our country had such a tragic experience with martial law. In fact, the mere mentioning of the term alone may be enough to cause alarm and fear to the sensibilities of every Filipino. Like the name “Voldermort” in the Harry Potter series, martial law also has its share of evil and horrible connotations in our country. But one may ask, if martial law is such an evil concept in Philippine history, why did the framers of the 1987 Constitution sought to retain this power in the hands of a robust “Commander-in-chief”? Why not scrap it altogether and bury it for good? To these questions, a sneak glimpse on the essentials of martial law in the context of American constitutionalism is fitting

Martial law is essentially founded upon the police power of the state. Joking aside, what is being referred to here is not the power vested with the police force or the PNP. Obviously, this has something to do with one of the inherent powers of the state. To be clear, the textual definition of police power is that, “power vested in the legislature by the constitution to make and establish all manner of wholesome and reasonable laws…as they shall be the judge to be for the good and welfare of the state and of the subjects of the same.” The idea of martial law is to protect “public safety” against invasion or rebellion which in essence, is one of the concerns of police power. The difference however is that while police power is ordinarily lodged with the legislature (meaning the law making bodies of the state), martial law powers had been placed in the hands of the President as the Commander-in-chief of the armed forces. In his recent Philippine Daily Inquirer column entitled “What is martial law?”, Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas has this observation, “What is peculiar about martial law as police power, however, is that, whereas police power is normally a function of the legislature executed by the civilian executive arm, under martial law, police power is exercised by the executive with the aid of the military and in place of “certain governmental agencies which for the time being are unable to cope with existing conditions in a locality which remains subject to the sovereignty.”

The September 21, 1972 declaration via Proclamation 1081 issued by then President Ferdinand Marcos was “technically” based on the 1935 Constitution. Back then, there was no specific jurisprudence (decided cases by the Supreme Court) on martial law. Thus, the martial law provision in the 1935 document was to be commonly understood in line with the American concept as to what martial law is in the strictest sense. According to a noted American law professor, martial law was an instrument for insuring public safety in times of emergency and for protecting the continuance of normal civil government. The clear implications from this traditional view would have to be first, martial law was not meant to be a substitute for civil government. Second, it was never meant to supersede law. And lastly, it neither calls for the suspension of constitutional rights. These were the inherent restrictions directed upon the administrator of martial law as commonly understood at least in the context of American constitutionalism. Significantly, this concept had been impliedly incorporated in the martial law provision under the 1935 Constitution.

What happened under the Marcos regime was a total deviation from the normal route to attain the martial law objective-“public safety” whenever the state is threatened by invasion or rebellion. To accomplish the purported “objectives” of the Sept. 21 declaration, President Marcos as the martial law administrator, armed himself with extensive powers by exercising legislative powers as well. In a blink of an eye, the theory behind the vitality of martial law as “state self-protection measure” had been put to a stringent test like never before. The draconian decrees issued by the President were later affirmed (in short, the court legitimized the actions of President Marcos.) by the Supreme Court as necessary measures to attain the objectives of the Sept. 21 declaration.

For these reasons, though martial law is often viewed as a monstrous power to be avoided, it likewise has its noble and necessary objectives to preserve law and order. Having learned from the lessons of history, the framers thought it wise to retain this power under the 1987 Constitution, but not without expressed restrictions and safeguards unlike the previous constitutions.

The salient provision on the “Commander-chief-powers” of the President is excessively long. Without a doubt, the new commander-in-chief provision is one of the outstanding features of the 1987 Constitution. Under said provision, while the original authority to declare martial law rest on the Executive branch, there is however an explicit command for checks and balances to achieve the desired result. As will be seen later, the Congress and the Supreme Court have significant roles to play when the nation is under the clutches of martial rule.

The power to declare martial law flows from the “Commander-in-chief” powers of the president. By virtue of Section 18 of Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, the president is bestowed with a sequence of graduated powers from the most to the least benign. The most benign power refers to the “Calling-out power” of the President. Thus, “whenever it becomes necessary” he (President) may call out the armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. But what will happen if in the exercise of the “Calling-out power” the President fails to suppress the existence of lawless violence or prevent an impending invasion or rebellion? Faced with this kind of situation, the President can now resort to the least benign powers in his commander-in-chief arsenal to quell any actual invasion or rebellion against the state.

These two extraordinary powers are; (1) the power to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or (2) place the entire country or any part thereof under martial law. Unlike the “calling-out power,” the grounds for the proclamation of martial law are at best limited. Thus, the constitution is unequivocal when it states that, there must be an actual invasion or rebellion and “when the public safety requires it.” The initial determination whether there is an actual invasion or rebellion will have to be decided by the President as the Commander-in-chief. But the story does not end there. After the proclamation, the President will now have to persuade Congress on the soundness of his actions. At this point, the 1987 Constitution clearly delineates the participation of Congress to check on the possible abuses of power by the chief executive when acting as Commander-in-chief.

As mentioned earlier, the new commander-in-chief provision under the 1987 Constitution is quite long. Nonetheless let us capture the gist on the extent of the President’s military powers, the martial law provision in particular.

After the initial determination on the existence of an actual invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, the President can now place the country or any part thereof under martial law. The duration of such proclamation shall not exceed sixty (60) days otherwise it shall be automatically lifted. Within forty-eight (48) hours following said proclamation, the President is obligated to submit a report, whether in person or in writing, to the Congress. If not in session, owing to the urgency of the situation, Congress must convene within 24 hours without need of a call. And in that regular or special session, Congress by a majority vote of all its members and voting jointly, may either revoke said proclamation or upon the initiative of the President, extend the period of the proclamation. By this time, it is Congress who will determine the duration of the proclamation depending on the persistence of the invasion or rebellion and when public safety calls for such extension.

From the wordings of the 1987 Constitution you can easily discern the intent of the framers when they drafted the Commander-in-chief provision-a recognition of the separation of powers principle. Both the President and Congress must agree to a certain extent that there is indeed a factual basis for the declaration of martial law. To which, as may be seen later, the Supreme Court in the exercise of judicial review can validly inquire and if found wanting, it will not hesitate to make the hammer fall and heavily! If you will observe, although the President has the sole power to declare martial law under the constitution, Congress may revoke said proclamation and it cannot be set aside by the President. In the same manner, Congress cannot extend the period of martial law motu propio, the initiative must always come from the President as the Commander-in-chief. In simple parlance, there is an inherent “give and take” relationship between the two co-equal departments of government in order to safeguard the power structure envisioned in the constitution.

Given the above discussion, in the end the buck stops with the Judicial branch mainly, the Supreme Court. Let us examine then the function of the Supreme Court under the new rule.

On historical note, Marcos Supreme Court in the case of Aquino v. Enrile had put an imprimatur on the legitimacy of the Sept. 21 proclamation. That infamous case drastically modified the original scope and effects of martial law as embodied in the 1935 Constitution. Now, all of these are purely of historical and academic value because of the new provisions in the 1987 Constitution abandoning the doctrine laid down in the Aquino case

As the bastion of the rights and liberties of the people, the Supreme Court also has an indispensable role especially in times of national crisis. Par. 3 of Section 18 Article 7 of the 1987 Constitution says, “The Supreme Court may review, in an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen, the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ or the extension thereof, and must promulgate its decision thereon within thirty (30) days from its filing.” Before the birth of the 1987 Constitution, the power of the court to review the “determination” or “judgment” of the President as Commander-in-chief was a constitutional “no-no”-a clear violation of the time-honored principle of separation of powers. It is often viewed as a forbidden territory of the courts. Now this is no longer the rule. Although traditionally a “political question,” the 1987 Constitution has clearly abandoned this rule in favor of a much libertarian approach by making it a justiciable controversy. Hence, any citizen can now question the sufficiency of the factual basis of the martial law proclamation.

It should be borne in mind that mere proclamation of martial law does not automatically suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus much less the operation of the constitution. During the state of martial law, civil courts and legislative bodies shall remain open. In line with this, military courts and agencies are not conferred jurisdiction over civilians where the civil courts are functioning. The suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall only apply to persons facing charges of rebellion or offenses inherent in or directly connected with invasion. Remarkably, any person arrested for such offenses must be judicially charged within three (3) days otherwise he shall be released.

I will not consider myself as a feisty critic of Gloria Arroyo’s administration. I prefer to deal with the legal or constitutional issues surrounding her stint as the President of the Republic. Time and again, I deplore whenever this administration preach “good governance” or “public welfare” at the expense of the fundamental law. That “unusual hobby” or “baka kc makalusot” mentality shows how public servants visualize the rule of law to suit their preoccupation. If you will observe, both the Conass issues and the martial law “speculation” have a common denominator-perpetuation of political power. Indeed, absolute power corrupts absolutely! In any case, we should be sensitive and vigilant enough to protect our fundamental law against those who wishes to hold power in perpetuity.

I just hope that the awesome power that lies in the little girl's hand will be utilized under highly extreme situations as envisioned in the constitution. Given her fetish for power, I wonder if she will ever make the coup de grace on this issue. Abangan!


Anonymous said...

"but this administration has an unusual hobby of tinkering with the constitution not only once but many times!"

I AGREE. And more often than not they say it's just a pigment of our imagination! Well, I must be J.K. Rowling then?

Waiting for Part II...


Christopher Diaz Bonoan said...

I have consolidated the two articles so that the readers will have a firm grasp on the history and constitutional aspect of martial law.

Well if you are already at the age of 20 and above, and you still read the works of J.K. Rowling or perhaps Stephen meyers, you must be a "mentally challenged" individual...hahaha

Anyways, as always I hope you will find my article useful...converse with friends about important issues such as this...thanks!!!

HOMER said...

Law School is so toxic, I couldn't even watch news on TV or read a newspaper. Not aware of this bombing incidents in Mindanao. Thanks to your entry.

Anyway, Martial Law wont be in the Constitution for no purpose at all. And there's nothing wrong with declaring Martial Law if it's really a valid exercise of the police power. I wonder why there really is a negative impression about Martial Law when it's purpose is really for the common good. People should be informed about its real purpose in the COnstitution.

I idolize Marcos' brilliance and I think he is the best President we had. Marcos just went overboard in the implementation of Martial Law.

The Little Girl wont succeed if ever she'll try to declare Martial Law. With all the tinkering she's doing with the Constitution as a cover for her term extension, Filipinos wont keep their mouth shut if she'll declare Martial law.

Christopher Diaz Bonoan said...

Amen to that!

It is a sad thing for us Filipinos Homer that when we talk about martial law crtitics are quick to condemn President Marcos as the monster behind the ills of our society...well obviously I am a marcosian...but my reasons are well grounded. anyway il save that topic for future writing...

I really think we need to educate the readers on this one, martial law has its necessary objectives that most people are unaware..

thank you Homer.