Duterte to suspend writ of habeas corpus if 'forced'

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte warned that he can suspend the writ of habeas corpus, a safeguard against warrantless arrests, if lawlessness – particularly the illegal drugs trade – persists in the country.

"If you force my hand into it, I will declare the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, not martial law," Duterte said on Friday, November 11, at the launch of the Pilipinong May Puno Foundation in Davao City.

Duterte, who made the warning as he spoke about the gravity of the drug situation in the country, said he "might be forced" to do this if lawlessness continues. "Warning ko lang sa kanila 'yan. Ayaw ko kasi hindi maganda (That is just my warning to them. I don't want it because it's not good)," Duterte said.

"Habeas corpus" is a Latin phrase that means "that you have the body." 

Through the writ of habeas corpus, a court can order the state to produce the physical body a person detained. "In general, the purpose of the writ of habeas corpus is to determine whether or not a particular person is legally held," the Supreme Court said in a ruling.

The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, then, allows the state to arrest and jail anyone without trial. 

The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, for example, suspended the writ of habeas corpus when he placed the Philippines under martial law, a time of human rights abuses and forced disappearances.

The 1987 Constitution, however, allows the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus "in case of invasion and rebellion, when the public safety requires it."

Duterte said of the law, "Those are really provisions intended to protect the Republic of the Philippines."

He added: "I can be ordered by the  Supreme Court to stop it but there are things that they cannot, and maybe I will not, stop. E bahala [na], sabihin ko muna tapusin ko ito (Come what may, I'll tell them I have to finish this first) then I can go to jail. File all the charges that you can think of. But this country, in my time, will not deteriorate any further."

Duterte, who won the presidency because of his anti-crime platform, cited the difficulty of building a case and the huge manpower required to gather enough evidence against crime suspects.

Senator Richard Gordon earlier pushed for a law to suspend the writ of habeas corpus to help Duterte fight illegal drugs and terrorism. Duterte is waging a war on drugs that has killed at least 4,812 people since July 1, with 3,001 of them having been slain in extrajudicial or vigilante-style killings.

Before Gordon pushed for this law, Duterte already declared a state of national emergency because of lawless violence after a bombing in Davao City, which he led as mayor for two decades. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

image