Gordon wants emergency powers for Duterte, suspension of habeas corpus

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senator Richard Gordon is set to file a bill seeking to grant President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers and to suspend the writ of habeas corpus to fight illegal drugs and terrorism in the country.

For Gordon, it is better that Congress get ahead of the President so it could set the limits of the special powers, rather than allow Duterte to have sole control.

"I'd rather have [Congress] draft the restrictions than he dictates to [us] kung ano (what would be the) restrictions," Gordon told reporters on Thursday, September 8.

The senator, however, has yet to give details of these restraints.

"Narinig ko sinabi ng President noon na, 'pag ayaw ng Kongreso, puwede akong magdeclare ng (I heard the President saying before that if Congress does not allow it, he would declare) a revolutionary government. That disturbed me. And when you see he is going around the camps, I'd rather have the Congress be in control than one man," Gordon said.

Duterte earlier declared a state of national emergency on the basis of lawless violence, after the Davao City bombing. Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo also said they thought of declaring it even before the blast happened, citing peace and order issues.

Separation of powers

In defending his move, Gordon said he is only following the separation of powers mandated by the 1987 Constitution. He maintained he has not talked to the President about the matter.

"Do you want him to declare martial law? I don't. I want to be in control, the Congress. This is the separation of powers clause. Kaya nilagay 'yan don. Unahan ko na siya. Eh kung bigla kaming magising bukas wala nang Kongreso, revolutionary government na, 'di lalong lagot tayo (That's why it was placed there. I would like to get ahead of him. What if we wake up tomorrow and there's no more Congress, a revolutionary government is in place, all the more we are at a disadvantage)," Gordon said.

The Constitution allows the President to declare martial law or lift the writ of habeas corpus "in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it."

Section 18, Article 7 states, "In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he [President] may, for a period not exceeding 60 days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law."

It is after such a move that Congress can come in to "extend" or "revoke" the declaration. The writ allows the court to order the State to produce the physical body of a person detained.

Gordon claimed he is only out to "protect" the public. But in seeking to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, there is a risk of unjust warrantless arrests – a characteristic of martial law. 

The senator, however, said there would be enough checks and balances in place, adding that courts would be open 24 hours everyday and Congress would have a list of those arrested "right away."

'Creeping martial law'

The idea did not sit well with Senator Leila De Lima, one of the fiercest critics of Duterte.

She expressed alarm that someone wants the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus just days after Duterte's proclamation of a state of national emergency.

Citing the Constitution, De Lima said the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, like martial law, should only be based on either invasion or rebellion.

"As a matter of principle, Constitutional law and given what is happening now, nakakatakot po 'yan (it is frightening)," De Lima said.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon, for his part, shared the same view, saying Gordon's proposal has no basis.

Drilon also said the requirement for the declaration of martial law is just the same as that of the suspension of the writ.

"I don't think there is any basis for that. Under the Constitution, only in cases of rebellion or invasion, when public safety requires it, can the privilege of writ of habeas corpus be suspended," Drilon said.

"In other words, it's the same ground that should be relied upon in cases of martial law. Pareho lang po 'yang (They're the same) – martial law and writ of habeas corpus, they must be anchored on same ground," he added.

Describing Gordon's proposal as "creeping martial law," De Lima said Duterte's declaration is already enough for the country. She then cautioned others to slow down and wait for the effects of the President's pronouncement.

"Dahan-dahan naman po tayo. 'Di po nakakatuwa 'yan. Baka naman maging effective na 'yan, 'di na kailangan ng suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. Parang martial law na rin 'yan. (Let's be cautious. It's not something to be happy about. The state of emergency might already be effective that we no longer need to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. That would be like martial law.) What are we having here? Creeping martial law, creeping authoritarianism," De Lima said.

The proposal, De Lima said, infringes on the basic rights that the framers of the 1987 Constitution fought hard to achieve to avoid another dictatorship.

"These are extreme measures. Ito 'yung pinaka-ingat-ingatan po ng mga drafters ng ating Constitution. Kaya nga nilimita na ang mga grounds, nilagyan na ng mga safeguards, limitations para 'di na maulit 'yung maitim na karanasan noon," De Lima said.

(These are extreme measures. This is what the drafters of our Constitution carefully made sure of. That's why they limited the grounds, put safeguards and limitations so the experiences of the dark past would no longer be repeated.) – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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