Philippine opposition lawmakers today asked the Supreme Court to reject President Rodrigo Duterte’s imposition of martial law in the south of the country, branding it unconstitutional. Duterte declared military rule across the region of Mindanao, home to about 20 million people, on May 23 to quell what he said was a fast-growing threat from the Islamic State (IS) group there.
Duterte made the declaration a few hours after militants flying black IS flags rampaged through the southern city of Marawi, triggering clashes with security forces that are still ongoing and have left at least 178 people dead. The petition filed with the Supreme Court on Monday said martial law should be struck down for “utter lack of sufficient factual basis”, as it drew parallels with ex-dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s military rule a generation ago.
“The grim specter of repression, atrocities, injustice and corruption again bedevils the Filipino people with the unwarranted, precipitate and unconstitutional declaration of martial law,” said the petition, filed by six congressmen. Marcos’s two-decade rule ended in 1986 when millions of people took to the streets in a “People Power” revolution.
Thousands of critics, suspected insurgents and their alleged supporters were jailed, tortured or killed during the dictatorship, according to historians. Shortly after Duterte declared martial law, he praised Marcos’s version and vowed his own would be “harsh”. The 1987 constitution imposes limits on martial law to prevent a repeat of abuses under Marcos, including allowing the Supreme Court to review its factual basis. However Duterte vowed five days after declaring martial law he would ignore the Supreme Court on the issue, and only listen to the police and military.
“The Supreme Court will say they will examine into the factual (basis). Why, I don’t know. They are not soldiers. They do not know what is happening on the ground,” Duterte said then. The petition stated that Duterte’s reasons for declaring martial law were “mostly inaccurate, simulated, false and/or hyperbolic”. It highlighted one of Duterte’s statements to justify martial law that the militants had beheaded a local police chief.
National police chief Ronald Dela Rosa later said the officer was not beheaded. The constitution allows martial law to be imposed only in the event of invasion or rebellion. The petitioners said the unrest in Marawi did not amount to rebellion, as stated by Duterte. The Supreme Court has 30 days to rule on the petition.