The justice secretary believes that if Congress convenes to affirm the President’s martial law declaration, the Supreme Court won’t have the last say on the issue
MANILA, Philippines (May 29, 2017) — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said on Monday, May 29, Congress must convene in order to solidify President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao, and keep it from reaching the Supreme Court (SC).
“I believe that Congress must meet in a joint session. Otherwise, they would not have the option whether to revoke or to affirm the martial law declaration, and this will allow the SC to have the last say on the issue,” Aguirre said in a news briefing.
Aguirre said he had communicated this to House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III.
Aguirre said that if Congress backs Duterte’s martial law, the High Court would be “almost powerless” to step in and say otherwise.
Aguirre’s statement goes against Section 18 Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, which gives the SC the power to review the martial law declaration upon the filing of a petition by any Filipino citizen.
Lawyer and political analyst Tony La Viña said that “from a legal point of view,” SC will have the last say.
In the same news briefing, Aguirre contradicted himself by saying that the SC could still review the martial law declaration, but that he is confident it has enough factual basis to pass judicial scrutiny.
Aguirre himself had said that if critics want to challenge martial law, they could go to the High Court.
“I believe that in view of the declaration of the President and the concurrence of Congress the only way that the SC could oppose this is when it shows that the act, that the President acted arbitrarily, which is very difficult to prove,” Aguirre said.
Solicitor General Jose Calida, who will have the task to defend Duterte’s martial law should it reach the High Court, earlier said that the declaration has sufficient basis.
There are two constitutional grounds to declare martial law: rebellion and invasion. Constitutionalist Christian Monsod said that the crisis in Marawi city does not constitute rebellion.
For Aguirre, the joint attack of terror groups Maute and Abu Sayyaf was a “prelude to eventually take over the entire island,“ which means that it satisfies the grounds to declare martial rule.
Aguirre also hit Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for what he said was a “premature” statement on martial law. Sereno delivered a speech on Friday before graduates of Ateneo de Manila University. She called on Filipinos to be vigilant and not allow Duterte’s martial law to be a repeat of the abuses during the 10-year martial rule of the late President Ferdinand Marcos.
“I’ve heard of it, but I believe that is premature, that should have not been said because an action or a petition before the SC could be raised before it,” Aguirre said.
Sereno also called out constitutional bodies such as the Office of the Ombudsman and Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to do its jobs to make sure the martial law upholds the rights of the people.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales declined to comment so she will not be interpreted as having a pre-judgment on possible martial law related cases which may be filed before her office.
“That’s the reason why I don’t like to talk about martial law, because there could be cases brought before us, eh, I might be prejudging inadvertently whatever actions we might be taking,” Morales said on Monday after she attended the Office of the Ombudsman’s launch of the Corrupt-Free Philippines Video Contest, an event at a hotel in Pasig City.
Morales also shrugged off Duterte’s statement over the weekend that he will ignore the SC when it comes to martial law.
“He just said that. That’s a mere knee-jerk reaction to the Supreme Court,” Morales said.
On Monday, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said the President will respect any SC ruling on the martial law, but included a caveat in his statement nonetheless.
“Of course he will respect [Supreme Court] but based on his own considerations being Commander-in-Chief,” Abella said.