Can Duterte use martial law for drug war?

Pia Ranada

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Can Duterte use martial law for drug war?
Crimes other than rebellion or invasion cannot be basis for martial law, says a lawyer. But Duterte's chief legal counsel says drug syndicates funding terror groups can be targets of martial law.

MANILA, Philippines – A few days after declaring martial law in Mindanao, President Rodrigo Duterte began floating the idea of including the fight against illegal drugs in his basis for possibly expanding martial law. 

This inclusion has basis, he claims, since it’s the illegal drug trade in Mindanao that finances terrorist groups there.

“Ang first declaration ko was lawless elements, kasali ang droga. ‘Yun nga ang number one. Isali ko na ngayon kasi ang sa rason na ibinigay ko sa declaration ng martial law, rebellion,” said Duterte on May 27, while talking to soldiers in Jolo, Sulu.

(My first declaration was lawless elements, including drugs. That is number one. I will include it now because the reason I gave for the declaration of martial law is rebellion.) 

“I will come up with another general order. I think Lorenzana will do it… Pati droga (Including drugs),” he added.

With martial law, Duterte said he can detain drug lords and narco-politicians without an arrest warrant.

“We will go after drugs and you can arrest them without warrant and you can search their houses without a search warrant,” he said. (READ: Duterte’s drug war blinding PH from rising ISIS threat, analysts say)

The Maute brothers and their supporters, according to the President, put up a shabu laboratory in Lanao del Sur, and are using profits from selling shabu to fund their terrorist activities. (READ: FAST FACTS: What you should know about the Maute Group)

“The Maute brothers went to the Middle East to study terrorism. When they went back here, they built the biggest laboratory dito sa (here) – and everywhere in the area of Lanao del Sur, and here in Buldon and it was really to fund terrorism,” Duterte said. 

But can the President declare martial law or expand its coverage on the basis of the spread of illegal drugs? 

Even the military’s own spokesman, Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, thinks the Constitution is clear that martial law can only be declared for two reasons.

“One, rebellion, and the other, invasion. There is no other condition other than those… Other than that, anything related to rebellion and invasion may be connected to it, but if it’s not, then we cannot,” Padilla said on June 2 during a Palace news briefing. 

A Supreme Court lawyer also told Rappler that drugs cannot be basis for a martial law proclamation.

Fighting crime – in this case, drug trafficking – is not grounds for declaring or expanding martial law, said the lawyer. (READ: Understanding Duterte’s martial law remarks)

Drugs funding terrorism 

But Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said that under the current martial law, Duterte can target drug syndicates directly funding terrorist groups behind the rebellion.

“What the President is saying is right now, the rebellion is being funded by drug money so if you relate that and the rebel groups would expand their assault in the nearby provinces then there would be a basis for expanding the declaration of martial law,” said Panelo on Monday, June 5, during a media interview.

Thus, only drug lords or narco-politicians suspected by authorities of funding rebel or terrorist groups with drug money can be the target of martial law.

“If the drug syndicates are funding the rebellion, they can be arrested,” said Panelo, explaining that these persons would still be arrested for a crime related to rebellion, one of the grounds for the proclamation of martial law.

In his recent speeches, Duterte has been telling the public about the connection between terrorism and drugs.

“Hinayaan kasi natin ang droga (We let drugs proliferate). There was a time, until now, that the terrorism activities in the Philippines is funded and fueled by drug money,” said the President on May 31 in Davao City.

He reiterated previous statements that he would use martial law to solve all of Mindanao’s problems. (READ: Duterte to end martial law when Mindanao ‘stable’)

“But I advise you, let’s end this. That’s why I said, don’t force me into it because if you do, I’ll solve all the remaining problems.” (READ: Martial law in Mindanao: Duterte’s warning fulfilled–

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.