Former Commission of Human Rights Chairperson Etta Rosales on Friday asked the Supreme Court to declare President Rodrigo Duterte's yearlong extension of martial law in Mindanao unconstitutional.
Rosales, who was tortured and abused during ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos' martial law, is the third petitioner to challenge the factual basis of the extension.
Proclamation No. 216 placed Mindanao under martial law and suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the region in 2017. Three petitions were lodged before the SC last year to challenge the proclamation's factual basis but 11 justices voted the declaration was constitutional.
Rosales is represented by former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay.
Military force vs martial law powers
Rosales stressed that Duterte need not resort to using the powers of martial law when his military powers, vested by the Constitution in the commander-in-chief, are enough to quell the terrorist forces in Mindanao.
“In the language of the Constitution, the purpose of using military force is to ‘prevent or suppress' activities of the enemies of the State,” the petition read.
“To this end, the full powers of the military may be used by the president against those who engage in ‘lawless violence, invasion or rebellion,' without the need to impose martial law,” Rosales added.
In his letter to Congress, Duterte reiterated the threats from Islamic State-linked extremists, local terrorists and communist rebels as the primary reason to justify the extension of martial law for another year.
Rosales said that military force is directed against “enemies of the State who are engaged in “lawless violence, invasion or rebellion,” while the martial law powers are “enforced against a civilian population.”
Threat to civil liberties
The petitioner also pointed out placing Mindanao under martial law “[imposes] the most severe threat to civil liberties.”
A separate petition filed by opposition lawmakers and the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, said that the extension of martial law “opens the floodgates to further attacks against just about anybody.”
With the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus suspended in Mindanao for another year, authorities can conduct warrantless arrests.
Abuse of this power characterized the years of under Marcos. Amnesty International estimated that some 70,000 were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured and 3,320 were killed during the Marcos' rule.
“The vagueness and ambiguity of said pronouncement sends a chilling effect that violates the people's right to exercise vital freedoms and liberties,” NUPL said.
Rebellion already quelled
Citing statements by the military, Rosales also pointed out that government forces are fighting the “remnants” of the terrorists groups.
“The foregoing statements clearly show that the Maute rebellion has already been quelled and the purpose of the one-year extension is to mop up the scattered rebels and prevent them from gathering and consolidating their strength,” Rosales said.
“Clearly, this is not the theater of war envisioned by the framers. Otherwise, every mop up operation of the government would necessarily justify the declaration of martial law,” she added.
“Thus, the president can no longer declare or extend martial law on the basis of mere threats of an impending invasion or rebellion. This is the clear, indisputable letter and intent of the 1987 Constitution,” she stressed.
The petition filed by the House of Representatives “Magnificent Seven,” led by Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay) also cited the same ground: The military are merely fighting those who are left from the main group of terrorists.
The SC is set to hold two days of oral arguments on the two consolidated petitions against the extension of martial law next week, January 16 and 17.