Opposition lawmakers hit 'creeping authoritarianism' under Duterte

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition lawmakers called out President Rodrigo Duterte over his seeming rejection of constitutional provisions allowing Congress and the Supreme Court (SC) to assess the martial law declaration in Mindanao.

"Is the President saying that he's willing to violate the Constitution? He is on his way to becoming a dictator," said Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr on Monday, May 29.  

Duterte had declared martial law in Mindanao last Tuesday, May 23, following clashes between government forces and Maute Group terrorists in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.

The President then said on Saturday, May 27, that only the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) can tell him to end martial law because they are aware of what is happening on the ground.

But this is unacceptable for Baguilat, who said lawmakers have their own sources of information to know what is happening in Marawi City.

"It's therefore important to validate the situation by having the sessions. And thus for Congress to give the constitutional mandate to the martial law declaration," said Baguilat. 

The 1987 Constitution allows the President to declare martial law for 60 days, but any extension requires the approval of Congress. (READ: Duterte cannot ignore SC, Congress on martial law – senators)

Duterte has already complied with the requirement of the Constitution that he submit a report to Congress within 48 hours after declaring martial law. In his report, Duterte said martial law in the entire Mindanao is necessary because of the Maute Group's intent to establish an Islamic State (ISIS) province there.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the SC may also review a martial law declaration following an "appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen."

Sought for clarification on Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said Duterte will respect any SC ruling on martial law.

But for Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, Duterte seems to be looking for reasons to justify military rule in the entire Mindanao, and perhaps even the whole country. (READ: Alvarez, Mindanao lawmakers justify martial law declaration)

"The statement of President Duterte on defying the Supreme Court and Congress regarding martial law is a blatant and outright violation of the Constitution. He may be the President, but he is not above the law. No one is," said Alejano.

"The Filipino people should be warned that the President has long had the intention to impose martial law in the whole country. He is merely looking now for reasons to justify the imposition. The people must be wary [of] such attempts of creeping authoritarianism," he added.

Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin also said Duterte has a "penchant for violence [and] disregard for the rule of law."

"Can we trust this administration which thrives on lies and alternative facts?" said Villarin.

He then called on both the House and the Senate to convene jointly to review Duterte's reasons for declaring martial law. 

Congress leaders earlier said it is "unlikely" that lawmakers would revoke martial law and therefore there is no need for them to convene– Rappler.com 

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.