Martial Law 101: Things you should know

Jodesz Gavilan

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Martial Law 101: Things you should know
(UPDATED) Under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, a declaration of Martial Law can be revoked or extended by Congress and reviewed by the Supreme Court

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Martial law in Mindanao will last for another year as the Senate and House of Representatives approved in a joint session on Wednesday, December 13, President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to extend the effectivity of his proclamation until December 31, 2018. (READ: Congress extends martial law in Mindanao to end of 2018

In a letter, Duterte explained to Congress that the extension is needed “primarily to ensure total eradication of Daesh-inspired Da’awatul Islamiyah Waliyatul Masriq (DIWM), other like-minded Local/Foreign Terrorist Groups (L/FTGs) and Armed Lawless Groups (ALGs), and the communist terrorists (CTs) and their coddlers, supporters, and financiers.” 

It was the second time martial law was approved after Congress voted on July 22 to extend the rule for another 5 months.  

Martial law in Mindanao was initially declared on May 23 through Proclamation 216 after government troops clashed with homegrown terrorists from the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf Group in Marawi City. 

This is the second localized martial law declaration. On December 5, 2009, then president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared martial law in Maguindanao through Proclamation 1959, following the massacre of 58 people – mostly members of the media – in the town of Ampatuan.

She lifted it 7 days later on December 12, 2009 upon the recommendation of the Cabinet.

Duterte is the 3rd president to declare martial law since after the war.

Why was the whole Philippines placed under Martial Law in 1972?

Proclamation 1081 which placed the entire Philippines under Martial Law was signed by former president Ferdinand Marcos on September 21, 1972. On September 23, at exactly 7:15 pm, he appeared on television to formally announce it. 

Marcos cited the  increasing threat of communism to justify the declaration. 

Meanwhile, according to Marcos’ diary entry for September 22, 1972, the alleged ambush of then defense secretary Juan Ponce Enrile made the “martial law proclamation a necessity.”

There were reports that the ambush was staged, as claimed by Oscar Lopez and his family who lived near the area where it happened. Enrile, in his 2014 memoir and documentary, insisted that it was all real. Yet the Official Gazette says that in 1986, Enrile himself disclosed that the supposed ambush was staged to justify Martial Law. (READ: Enrile’s tale: Hypocrisy and contradictions)

It was the start of almost 10 years of martial rule in the country.

What were Marcos’ general orders under Martial Law?

Aside from Proclamation 1081, Marcos also released general orders (GO) that guided his martial rule. (READ: Marcos’ Martial Law orders)

Included were orders to transfer all powers to the president, authorizing the military to arrest individuals conspiring to take over the government, the enforcement of curfew hours, and the banning of group assemblies.

Letters of instruction were also released in the following days, ordering the closure and seizure of private media and public utilities, among others.

Marcos formally ended Martial Law through Proclamation No. 2045 on January 17, 1981. 

What changed under the 1987 Philippine Constitution pertinent to Martial Law?

Five years after ending Martial Law, Marcos was toppled from power through the 1986 People Power Revolution. Corazon Aquino, the widow of Marcos critic Benigno Aquino Jr, ascended to the presidency. 

In April 1986, through Proclamation No. 9, Aquino created the 1986 Constitutional Commission (Con-Com) which was responsible for drafting a replacement for the 1973 constitution. (FAST FACTS: The 1987 Philippine Constitution)

The new constitution, she said, should be “truly reflective of the aspirations and ideals of the Filipino people.”

Unlike the 1935 Constitution which Marcos based his proclamation on, the 1987 Philippine Constitution was more explicit on when Martial Law can be declared.

Section 18, Article VII of the 1987 Philippine Constitution says that the President, as commander-in-chief, may “in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it” suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the country under martial law.

The martial law period or suspension of the writ of habeas corpus should, however, not exceed 60 days. The writ safeguards individual freedom against arbitrary state action.

Unlike the previous constitutions, the 1987 Philippine Constitution specifies that a state of martial law cannot override the function of both the judiciary and legislative branches of the government.

The latest constitution also does not “authorize the conferment of jurisdiction on military courts and agencies over civilians where civil courts are able to function.”

A state of martial law does not automatically suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

Its suspension shall only apply to “persons judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in or directly connected with the invasion.”

During the suspension of the privilege of the writ, those arrested or detained shall be judicially charged within 3 days, or otherwise released.

What’s the process that should be followed after declaring martial law under 1987 Constitution?

Under the latest constitution, other branches of government have a say in the declaration of martial law to prevent grave abuse of discretion on the part of the chief executive.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution says that the declaration shall be affirmed by the Congress via a vote and even reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Within 48 hours after its declaration, the president shall submit a report “in person or in writing” to Congress.

Congress then has the power to revoke the proclamation by a vote of at least a majority of all members of both the Senate and the House. Congress can also – if requested by the President and if public safety requires it – extend the period of Martial Law beyond the mandated 60 days.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, may review the “sufficiency of the factual basis” of the proclamation of Martial Law in an “appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen.” 

Dangers of Martial Law

There are people who laud the Martial Law period in the Philippines, claiming that it was the “best years” of the country.

However, the supposed discipline that existed then was accompanied by the numerous abuses people suffered through. (READ: #NeverAgain: Martial Law stories young people need to hear)

According to Amnesty International, about 70,000 people were imprisoned while 34,000 were tortured, and 3,240 were killed during Martial Law from 1972 to 1981. 

People deemed to be subversive were tortured by various means, including electrocution, water cure, and strangulation. (READ: Worse than death: Torture methods during martial law)

Will these happen again if the Philippines is placed under Martial Law one more time? –

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.