De Lima: Duterte’s martial law threat ‘really very worrisome’

Camille Elemia
De Lima: Duterte’s martial law threat ‘really very worrisome’
Two other senators, however, say President Rodrigo Duterte was probably just kidding

MANILA, Philippines – Very worrisome and over the top.

That is how Senator Leila De Lima described President Rodrigo Duterte’s remark threatening martial law in response to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. (READ: Duterte to Sereno: Want me to declare martial law?)

“So if this is how the administration, particularly the President, treats any kind of dissent, even the most respectful expression of a differing opinion, then that is really very worrisome,” De Lima told reporters on Wednesday, August 10.

“Ito [ang] sinasabi kong slippery slope towards totalitarianism,” the senator added.

(This is what I’ve been calling the slippery slope towards totalitarianism.)

De Lima said it is the first time that a chief executive is openly using threatening words against a co-equal branch of government.

Malacañang had said that Duterte’s controversial statement was rhetorical, but for De Lima that’s not an excuse.

“Nakakabahala. If it [were] meant to be rhetorical sana kino-control na lang,” she said.

(It’s bothersome. If it were meant to be rhetorical then he should just have controlled himself from saying it.)

The senator said the reaction was “disproportionate” to Sereno’s sentiments about the list of judges and other public officials allegedly involved in the drug trade. Sereno, in a letter to the President, said his announcement was “premature.” (READ: FULL TEXT: Sereno’s letter to President Duterte)

The Chief Justice, De Lima said, was merely “informing the executive” about the possible effects of the shame campaign on the judiciary’s performance.

“‘Yung naging reaction ng ating Pangulo (The President’s reaction is) highly disproportionate to the statement of the CJ (Chief Justice) who is just trying to protect the independence of the judiciary, and threatening martial law… is way over the top,” she said.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon, meanwhile, urged the parties involved to slow down and rethink future statements.

“Dahan-dahan po tayo sa pagsasalita. Huwag natin idaan sa init ng ulo,” Drilon said.

(Let’s be cautious with our statements. Let us not let anger get in the way.)

Drilon added statements that might result in a constitutional crisis would not lead the nation anywhere and might only “weaken” democratic institutions.

“I am appealing for a more rational debate on the issue regarding the government’s aggressive campaign against drugs. Let reason and civility govern the exchanges of opinions on issues,” he said.

Just a joke?

But for other senators, the remark might as well be assumed as a joke from the feisty President.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said the public should now be already “familiar” with Duterte’s character, including his “bullheadedness.”

“His bullheadedness is epic. By now, we should already be familiar with his antics especially when making spontaneous statements or announcements to media,” Lacson said.

“Having said that, it may be safe to assume that the martial law threat is just that and nothing more,” he added.

Lacson added that the 1987 Constitution prohibits the executive branch from solely declaring martial law, as it has to be approved by both chambers of Congress.

Senator Francis Pangilinan also said Duterte, a lawyer and prosecutor before he joined politics, might have been kidding.

“The President may be joking because an order to disobey a legal order or a decision of the Supreme Court is against the Constitution,” Pangilinan said in a statement.

Instead of a word war, Pangilinan called on the executive to convene the Joint Judicial, Executive, and Legislative Advisory and Consultative Council (JJELACC) to discuss the issues of the justice system and the judiciary. –

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a former multimedia reporter for Rappler. She covered media and disinformation, the Senate, the Office of the President, and politics.