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Landmark decision and opinions on ML

It will take days to read, digest and absorb the comprehensive decision and individual opinions of the Supreme Court justices (in Lagman vs Medialdea, 7/4/17) regarding Proclamation No. 216, the martial law edict.

Crucial matters. But for now, let me just extract a few items from the well-crafted ponencia of Justice Mariano C. del Castillo as they relate to the crucial points raised in my two columns on the subject (“Win-win decision on martial law,” 6/18/17, and “Unity and solidarity amid crisis,” 7/2/17).

First, though the petitioners failed to nullify the edict, they still served the public for giving the Supreme Court the precious opportunity to review it. If no petitions were filed, no review would have been possible. That the justices deemed the opportunity precious is shown by the fact that all 15 of them rendered individual opinions, the longest being the dissent of Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen at 92 pages, outstripping even the ponencia at 82, and the shortest being the concurrence of Justice Lucas P. Bersamin at 10.

Second, 14 magistrates held that the proclamation had “sufficient factual basis.” Two of the 14 (CJ Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno and Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa) held that such factual basis applied only to Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Sulu, and one (Justice Antonio T. Carpio), to Marawi only. To Leonen, it had no factual basis at all. More accurately therefore, the voting was 11-2-1-1, not 11-3-1.

Exclusive power. Third, the Court held that the President has the sole and exclusive discretion to declare martial law and to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

However, such discretion is not absolute or unbridled because it can be exercised only when there is 1) actual invasion or rebellion and 2) the public safety requires it. Actual invasion or rebellion is not enough; public safety must require the exercise of such power.

To determine the existence of rebellion, “the President only needs to convince himself that there is probable cause or evidence showing that more likely than not a rebellion was committed or is being committed.” In short, he needs only a prosecutorial finding, not a judicial conclusion.

Ground for review. Fourth, while both the Supreme Court and Congress may nullify the President’s proclamation, the Court restricted its own authority to do so but allowed Congress to have more. Thus, “in reviewing the sufficiency of the factual basis of the (declaration) or suspension, the Court considers only the information and data available to the President prior to or at time of the declaration; it is not allowed to undertake an investigation beyond the pleadings.”

Moreover, “the Court does not need to satisfy itself that the President’s decision is correct, rather it only needs to determine whether the President’s decision had sufficient factual basis.” Given this pronouncement, critics accuse the Court of being too “deferential” to the President.

On the other hand, “Congress may take into consideration not only data available prior to, but likewise events supervening the declaration” or suspension. “Unlike the Court which does not look into the absolute correctness of the factual basis… Congress could probe deeper and further; it can delve into the accuracy of the facts presented before it.”

Being “totally different” from each other, though having “the same trajectory,” the veto powers of Congress and the Supreme Court may be exercised simultaneously.

The Court explained that while martial law grants the President “police powers, which is normally a function of the Legislature,” the people should not be scared because it “does not suspend the… Constitution, neither does it supplant the operation of civil courts or legislative assemblies. Moreover… the Bill of Rights remain[s] in place… (and the suspension of the privilege) applies only to those judicially charged with rebellion…”

It concluded with a call for unity: “[W]e, the Filipino people are confronted with a crisis of such magnitude and proportion that we all need to summon the spirit of unity and act as one undivided nation, if we are to overcome and prevail in the struggle at hand.”

More in future columns.

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