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Commentary

Good cop, bad cop on ML issue

12:04 AM June 19, 2017

President Duterte’s statement that he will respect the decision of the Supreme Court on the legality of his martial law proclamation in Mindanao has minimized the risks of a constitutional crisis arising from his action.

It’s nice to hear about the President’s intention to comply with the constitutional provisions on the delineation of authority among the three branches of government on the issue of martial law. Earlier, he said he would listen only to the military and police on when to lift martial law ostensibly because they are familiar with the situation on the ground.

On the other hand, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has served notice that he would ignore the high court if it rules in favor of the petition calling for Congress to meet in joint session to discuss the martial law declaration.

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But Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III has refrained from discussing the merit of the petitions. He simply said the Senate acted properly when it decided not to call a joint session to discuss the martial law declaration after a majority of the senators endorsed it.

With the President recognizing the high court’s power to pass upon the validity of his action, it is not far-fetched that Alvarez would later pull back from his antagonistic posture and similarly acknowledge the judiciary’s review authority over martial law.

Recall that last year, in the wake of Vice President Leni Robredo’s video message to the United Nations Human Rights Commission to investigate extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, Alvarez threatened to file impeachment charges against her supposedly for betrayal of public trust.

Then the President publicly called on those planning to impeach Robredo to desist from doing so. His call was taken seriously by his congressional allies. No House member endorsed the impeachment complaint filed against the Vice President by two grandstanding lawyers.

When Alvarez was later asked about his plan to have Robredo impeached, he said he was merely studying that possibility. From then on, nothing was heard anymore about the matter.

The difference in stance on the martial law petitions by two of the highest ranking officials in the government has put a “good cop, bad cop” look on this political issue.

Mr. Duterte appears to be the “good cop” who wants to keep faith with his oath to preserve and defend the Constitution, while Alvarez comes out as the “bad cop” who thinks the high court, in spite of the explicit provisions of the Constitution, has no business telling Congress how to do its job on the matter.

Although the President’s statement about honoring the high court’s ruling on his martial law decree is reassuring, there is no telling whether he will remain firm on his stand for the long haul. Note that he earlier had a change of mind on significant issues—e.g., ceasefire with the New People’s Army, military aid from the United States, and the participation of the Moro National Liberation Front and Moro Islamic Liberation in the fight against the terrorist Maute group.

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The reasons Mr. Duterte, or his spokesperson, cited to explain or justify the 180-degree turnaround on the incidents mentioned were plausible, but they raised concerns about consistency in the administration’s policymaking process.

If things do not get out of hand in Marawi and the high court upholds the validity of the martial law declaration in Mindanao, or even only in the Islamic City, the President would, no doubt, quickly declare his acceptance of the decision.

But a lot of things can happen between now and the day the high court renders its ruling that may alter that favorable scenario.

In case the Filipino followers of the Islamic State heed its call to conduct more attacks in Mindanao and other parts of the Philippines during the holy month of Ramadan, and the high court strikes down the martial law proclamation, the President may be forced to backtrack from his earlier commitment to respect its decision.

If that happens (knock on wood), a constitutional crisis will most likely happen. It is hoped we don’t get to that stage.

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Raul J. Palabrica (rpalabrica@inquirer.com.ph) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.

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TAGS: Aquilino Pimentel III, Inquirer Commentary, Inquirer Opinion, Marawi siege, Mindanao martial law, Pantaleon Alvarez, Raul J. Palabrica, Rodrigo Duterte, Supreme Court
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