Philippine High Court Upholds Martial Law Extension in South

Richel V. Umel and Froilan Gallardo
Iligan City, Philippines
180206-PH-protest-1000.jpg Filipinos protest in Manila against a congressional move to extend martial law in the southern island of Mindanao, Dec. 13, 2017.

The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out all opposition to President Rodrigo Duterte’s one-year extension of martial law in the restive south, paving the way for unhampered military operations there against militants who took over Marawi city last year.

Citing lack of merit, the court voted 10-5 to dismiss petitions against the extension of military rule in Mindanao, including from several left-leaning congressmen and the former chairwoman of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights.

“The rebellion that spawned the Marawi incident persists,” the court ruled. “Public safety requires the extension, as shown by facts presented by the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines].”

The Senate and House of Representatives had “full discretionary authority to formulate, adopt and promulgate” free of any judicial interference, the justices noted. Both congressional houses voted last month to grant Duterte’s request to extend martial law by another year to ensure “total eradication” of militants and communist guerrillas in the south.

His order covered the Communist Party of the Philippines and its guerrilla force, the New People’s Army (NPA), both of which he formally designated as “terrorist groups” after ending peace talks with them.

Congress passed the one-year extension after the president declared victory in Marawi against pro-Islamic State (IS) groups in late October, following a five-month battle to expel them from the city. More than 200,000 people were displaced in the gun battles, and 1,200 – a majority of whom were militants – were killed.

Philippine troops stand near artillery shells in a recently cleared neighborhood of Marawi city, in October 2017.
Philippine troops stand near artillery shells in a recently cleared neighborhood of Marawi city, in October 2017.
Richel V. Umel/BenarNews


Foreign militants

The court rejected arguments from petitioners that military rule should only be limited to 60 days, noting that the country’s constitution had not fixed a specific period for an extension. The charter also did not stipulate how many times Congress could extend a president’s martial law edict, the high court ruled.

In arguing for the extension, the government had warned that dozens of followers of slain IS leader Isnilon Hapilon remained at large in Mindanao and could post a threat. Although the military had defeated the IS faction that caused carnage in Marawi, other militant leaders had taken over leadership positions and were busy recruiting Muslim youths in the south, the government argued.

The military, in arguments before the Supreme Court, said at least 48 foreign militants were known to have landed in Mindanao and were in charge of recruitment.

The military, however, did not fully explain how it arrived at this information and how the foreigners had snuck in amid tightened security involving several Southeast Asian countries.

The court sided with Duterte and the military, which said it was necessary to ensure “public safety” in the face of ongoing threats.

Solicitor General Jose Calida welcomed the ruling, saying the high court’s order could help “usher in the prosperity of Mindanao after the rebellion is quelled.”

Rights abuses feared

But Congressman Edcel Lagman, one of the petitioners against martial law, said the ruling could embolden Duterte in “flaunting the rule of law because he can seek refuge behind the robes of majority of the Supreme Court.”

“When a majority of the justices of the Supreme Court fall in cadence with the president and the congress in violating the constitution, then the country is abandoned in the quagmire of tripartite derogation of the people’s civil liberties,” he said in a statement.

Lagman added that the extension of martial law had no “factual anchorage” because Duterte had himself earlier declared victory over IS-linked militants in Marawi “the principal, if not the sole target, of the martial law declaration.”

Rights advocacy group Karapatan also criticized the ruling, and warned it foster a “favorable condition” that could lead to more abuses by the military in the south.

“Just as the Duterte-controlled super majority in Congress colluded to approve the extension of martial law last December 2017, the Supreme Court followed through with a rubber stamp to legitimize martial law – completing the ingredients for a full-fledged tyranny,” warned Cristina Palabay, Karapatan’s director.

Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.


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