MANILA, Philippines – After President Rodrigo Duterte said only the military and the police can tell him to end martial law, senators reminded the President that he cannot just ignore Congress and the Supreme Court.
Minority Senator Francis Pangilinan said the Chief Executive swore to uphold the 1987 Constitution, which mandates that Congress and the Supreme Court review any declaration of martial law.
"The President swore to uphold and defend the Constitution, not willfully defile it and do only as he wants," Pangilinan said in a statement on Monday, May 29.
"No one is above the law, not even the President. We oppose any violation of the Constitution on matters pertaining to the martial law declaration. To allow the President to disregard the Constitution is to open the gates to dictatorship. This we vigorously oppose. Might is not right," he added.
The Liberal Party president urged Cabinet members to caution Duterte and remind him not to violate his oath of office. Pangilinan also called on the public to unite in defending the supreme law of the land.
"We call on all citizens to come together and unite to defend the Constitution, our democracy, and the rule of law. We call for courage, for bearers of light to stand against the looming tide of darkness upon our land," he said.
Senator Grace Poe, meanwhile, said Duterte cannot just ignore the legislature and the judiciary. She, however, added that the President may not have been speaking in a literal sense.
"Under the Constitution, he cannot do that, but again, knowing the President, he's been there for almost a year now, we have to realize that he speaks depending on who he's addressing, who his audience is. I know the President still has to realize that whatever he utters, whether in a small, intimate gathering or a huge gathering, will have an impact on the country," Poe said.
The 1987 Constitution requires the President to submit a report within 48 hours of declaration to Congress, which has the power to either revoke or extend martial law through joint voting. (READ: No joint session on martial law? Congress 'shields' Duterte)
The Supreme Court may also review the "sufficiency of the factual basis" of the proclamation of martial law in an "appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen."
Just a joke?
Minority Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, one of the President's fiercest critics, said he is no longer surprised by such a pronouncement.
"Since day one when Duterte ordered the killing of our people in his fake war on drugs, it was quite clear that he had no respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions. People should start waking up because he will keep on pushing the boundaries of his power for as long as no one is pushing back," Trillanes said.
But for Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Duterte might just be joking yet again.
"I don't think he means it. Maybe said in jest," Recto said in a message.
Senator Panfilo Lacson also said Filipinos should "get used" to the President's rhetoric by now. After all, he said, Duterte is a lawyer and knows he cannot violate the Constitution.
He pointed out that Duterte "respected" the Constitution when he submitted, within 48 hours, his report to Congress.
"He is a lawyer and he knows that he can't ignore the SC and the Congress in this regard," Lacson said.
"The better question to ask is if he meant, half-meant, or didn't mean at all what he said. The mere fact that he complied with the constitutional requirement of submitting to Congress the written report within 48 hours shows his respect and regard to the Constitution and the duly established authorities," he added.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, said Duterte "probably means" the military and the police are the ones who know "what's happening on the ground."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org