CJ Sereno: Martial law clarification will protect soldiers too

Lian Buan

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CJ Sereno: Martial law clarification will protect soldiers too
'While we will and we may uphold the power of the President, it is also our duty that that power is discharged fully in accordance with the framework that governs our country,' says Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno

MANILA, Philippines – Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said on Wednesday, June 14, that a Supreme Court (SC) decision clarifying the definition of martial law would also protect soldiers in Marawi City.

The Chief Justice made the statement while interpellating the counsel of the petitioners against President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law declaration in Mindanao on Wednesday, the second day of oral arguments on the petitions.

“We also have a duty to the men and women. They are dying, their lives being given up, heroic acts being performed, and they do not know the legal conundrum they might face should this court fail to sufficiently outline the legal framework for which martial law must be administered in this country,” Sereno said.

Prior to the statement, Sereno asked lawyer Marlon Manuel, counsel for the Marawi group of petitioners, “if there are statutes that would put military officers in hot water if they follow a presidential directive that turns out to be without sufficient basis.” 

In response, Manuel cited international statutes which may impose liabilities on the soldiers if the martial law declaration in Mindanao turned out to be invalid.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen had also said during the first day of the oral arguments on Tuesday that there was a need to clarify the operational guidelines of martial law in Mindanao. (READ: HIGHLIGHTS: Day 1 of SC oral arguments on Mindanao martial law)

Protection for military

Sereno said the military had sought the amendment of  Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007 because “in their view, the liabilities there are burdensome.” The law outlines the “political, economic, diplomatic, military, and legal means” to fight terrorism in the country.

“Congress has not sufficiently legislated that framework to keep the army from legal harm’s way,” Sereno said, driving home her point on the importance of a High Court decision clarifying martial law.

“While we will and we may uphold the power of the President, it is also our duty that that power is discharged fully in accordance with the framework that governs our country,” she added.

Sereno led Manuel to tell the justices that if the SC does not clarify the guidelines, “we will be destroying the institutions that have been built over the decades.”

“Then we are reverting back to the martial law period during Marcos,” Manuel said. (READ: Martial law, the dark chapter in Philippine history)

Sereno’s sentiments on the martial law period during the Marcos regime are not unknown. The Chief Justice said in a speech at the Ateneo de Manila University that the imposition of martial law in Mindanao should be guarded to avoid the injustices and mistakes of military rule under Marcos.

What’s the difference under martial law?

On the first day of oral arguments on Tuesday, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio led Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman to say that the crisis in Marawi City was a mere “threat” and not a case of rebellion which is the constitutional basis for martial law. (READ: SC’s Del Castillo: Isn’t Marawi siege act of rebellion?)

Carpio even pointed out on Tuesday that there were no incidents in other provinces in Mindanao, a line of thought seen by a legal expert as Carpio raising a possibility to restrict martial law to Marawi City.

On Wednesday, Carpio explored the issue of whether there was added legal value in the declaration of martial law. (READ: SC’s Bersamin says trust Duterte on martial law)

Lagman, representing minority lawmakers who filed a petition against martial law, said the martal law declaration just strengthened the primacy of Duterte’s role as commander-in-chief and emboldened soldiers to do what they may not necessarily do.

Carpio said this was just a “psychological effect.”

“But legally, there’s no additional power, assuming he does not suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. We’re just quibbling over something that doesn’t matter legally – that’s the effect if he does not acquire legal power, ” Carpio said.

Lagman answered: “He may not assume any legal power, but the Constitution requires him to have sufficient factual basis when he declares martial law.” –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.