The Supreme Court has dismissed three petitions questioning the constitutionality of President Duterte’s proclamation No. 216 declaring martial law in Mindanao following the Maute attack on Marawi City on May 23. Eleven of the 15 justices voted to dismiss the petitions, three were for limiting the territorial coverage of the proclamation, and one voted against the proclamation.
The court thus accepted the national government’s position that there is indeed a rebellion centered on Marawi City and that it is part of plot to establish an Islamic State caliphate and thus remove allegiance from the Republic of the Philippines.
It has now been over seven weeks since the start of the attack on May 23 and the end is not in sight. Many foreign fighters identified with the Islamic State that is fighting in Syria and Iraq have been killed in Marawi. There is no disputing the fact that a rebellion is underway in Marawi City, not merely an imminent danger of one, and not the usual acts of terrorism seen in the past.
With that decided, the Supreme Court now turns to two other petitions seeking to compel Congress to meet in joint session to comply with the constitutional provision: ”The Congress, 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.”
The leaders of Congress – Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Speaker Pantaleon Avarez – have said there is no need to convene a joint session as the members of Congress do not intend to revoke the presidential proclamation anyway. This is, however, a mere presumption on their part. Until there is actual joint voting and actual determination of a majority decision, there is no official finding of what the members of Congress have decided.
The leaders of Congress may indeed know how their members feel about the presidential proclamation of martial law. And very likely, the members of Congress will vote in a joint session to support it. But that constitutional provision was placed there for a purpose. We believe it is to give anyone who wants to speak for or against a proclamation of martial law an opportunity to have his say in public and before the entire nation.
Sometime in some distant future of this republic, a president whose motives may not be as pure as those of our present President Duterte may rise and proclaim martial law. We do not want his minions in Congress to point to the present Congress’ inaction and claim it as a precedent.
We thus look forward to the Supreme Court acting on the two other petitions pending before it – on the matter of whether Congress should meet in joint session to vote jointly on a proclamation of martial law.