Duterte’s threats: in August, martial law; in November, suspension of writ of habeas corpus

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/14 Nov) – In his first four months as President, Rodrigo Roa Duterte has threatened to declare martial law and suspend the writ of habeas corpus in pursuit of his war on drugs and between these options, issued Proclamation 55, declaring a “state of national emergency on account of lawlessness in Mindanao,” which he has yet to lift.

Duterte on August 9 threatened to declare martial law if the Supreme Court got in the way of his war on drugs and on November 11 warned he “might be forced” to suspend the writ of habeas corpus “kung magkalat itong.. lawlessness” (if lawlessness spreads) and because he needs a “remedy” to go after those involved in drugs that will not “box me in a corner.”

President Rodrigo Duterte issues some clarification before the media on his statements on US relations upon arrival on shortly before midnight on Friday n at the Davao International Airport, Davao City, from a state visit in China.Mindanews Photo
President Rodrigo Duterte warned in August that he would declare martial law, and in November, suspend the writ of habeas corpus. In September, he signed Proclamation 55 declaring a “State of National Emergency on account of lawlessness in Mindanao.”  Mindanews photo

Preventing and suppressing lawlessness were in fact the reasons why he signed Proclamation 55 on September 4, two days after the Roxas night market blast that killed 15 persons and injured 69 others.

Proclamation 55 called on the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police “to undertake such measures as may be permitted by the Constitution and existing laws to suppress any and all forms of lawless violence in Mindanao and to prevent such lawless violence from spreading and escalating elsewhere in the Philippines, with due regard to the fundamental civil and political rights of our citizens.”

The 1987 Constitution under Section 18 of Article VII said that as commander in chief of all armed forces, the President “may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion.”

Don’t confuse criminality with rebellion

“In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law,” the Constitution says.

The writ of habeas corpus is issued by a court, directed to a person detaining another, to produce the body of the prisoner at a designated time and place, to inquire on the legality of the detention.

Dean Jose Manuel Diokno of the De La Salle University College of Law was quoted by ABS-CBN News (ANC) online as saying on Sunday that government should not confuse criminality and acts of terrorism with rebellion.

Diokno said the suspension of the writ is “only allowed for rebellion and invasion. And rebellion means public uprising. I’m confused because the government seems to be referring to criminality which is not equated with rebellion.”

Suspend writ of habeas corpus

Duterte on November 11 said: “Ang Maute (group) grabe ang bakbakan dito, baka akala ninyo. There is a rebellion, there is a rebellion being waged down in Mindanao. At kung magkalat itong (if this spreads) … lawlessness, I might be forced to (suspend the writ of habeas corpus).

The Maute Group was linked to the night market blast following the arrest in early October of three suspects who were reportedly members of the group.

Duterte said his plan to suspend the writ of habeas corpus is a mere warning “but if you force my hand into it, I will declare the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, not martial law.”

Quickly shifting the topic to his war on drugs, specifically the involvement of the police in the illegal drugs trade, Duterte noted the long process in building a case against them, individually. But suspending the writ of habeas corpus will shorten the process and to stress his point, he made a hyperbolic statement that he can bring the police to Samal Island across this city, and there dig a hole in the middle so the island will sink along with them.

“I have to build a case one by one, itong sa pulis naman ako, I will declare a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, pick-up-in ko ‘yan lahat. Dalhin ko yan sa Samal. Butasan ko ‘yang Samal sa gitna para lumubog, kasali na sila,” Duterte said.  

Earlier in his speech, Duterte reported there are some 6,000 policemen, about 4,000 municipal mayors, a few city mayors and about one or two congressmen and another four governors involved in the illegal drugs trade. “How do we solve the problem?” he asked.

The President said he won’t declare martial law, apparently to allay fears he would perpetuate himself in power, but warned he would suspend the writ of habeas corpus “kasi wala akong remedy. I cannot issue an order without a valid..” He did not complete his sentence.

“If you don’t give me a choice then you box me in a corner and I find myself helpless,” Duterte added.

“I can be ordered by the Supreme Court to stop it but there are things that they cannot, and maybe I will not, stop. Eh, bahala sabihin ko na muna tapusin ko ito (I will just tell them I will finish this) tapos I can go to jail.  File all the charges that you can think of. But this country, in my time, will not deteriorate any further,” he said. 

“Would your rather I declare martial law?”

Duterte on August 9 warned Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno in his speech before soldiers in Camp Evangelista, Cagayan de Oro City, that he would declare martial law if the Supreme Court gets in the way of his war on drugs.

In the early hours of August 7, while at the Eastern Mindanao Command’s covered court for the wake of four soldiers slain in clashes with the New People’s Army, Duterte read a list of 163 persons allegedly involved in the illegal drugs trade, seven of them judges. Sereno wrote the President on August 8 that she would caution the judges he named not to ‘surrender’ to the police unless warrants of arrests have been issued against them.

Of the seven judges, Sereno said only four were in active service as one died in January 2008, one was dismissed in 2007 for gross ignorance of law and misconduct and one retired in June this year.

“To safeguard the role of the judges as the protector of constitutional rights, I would caution them very strongly against ‘surrendering’ or making themselves physically accountable to any police officer in the absence of any duly-issued warrant of arrest that is pending,” Sereno wrote Duterte.

In response, Duterte said on August 9: “I am giving you a warning. Do not create a crisis because I will order everybody in the executive department not to honor you.”

 “If this continues, you are trying to stop me. I might lose my cool or would you rather I declare Martial Law?” the President asked.

“Why would you wait for the warrant of arrest?”

Duterte said he made it clear that the judges on the list were to report to the Supreme Court. “Wala akong pina-aresto (I did not order an arrest), Chief Justice,” he said, adding he was just exercising his duty as President.

He said he respects her comments “but it is a rigmarole to me… You know, Chief Justice, there was slaughter going on, and mind you, you were appointed by the government there in your office as a Chief Justice at the time na walang ginawa ang gobyerno.  And why would you wait for the warrant of arrest? There are now 600,000 of Filipinos addicted and victim. Maghingi ka ng warrant, Madame Chief Justice, you must be joking, you must be joking, dalawa tayo abogado, kayong lahat sa Supreme Court. Do you know how long it would take… to secure a warrant of arrest?”

Duterte on August 11 apologized to Sereno for the “harsh words” he uttered.

“I apologize to the Chief Justice for the harsh words which were never intended…. But ako kasi, because of the magnitude of the (illegal drugs) problem, it was my way of solving the problem within the ambit of my powers as President,” he added.  

Declaration planned before blast

On September 4, the day Duterte signed Proclamation 55, Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo, was quoted by GMA 7 Online News as telling its Super Radyo DZBB that the Davao bombing two days earlier was not the trigger to the declaration of a state of lawlessness.

He said they had actually drafted the declaration even before the bombing and that it was supposed to be released on September 4 or 5.

Panelo cited four reasons for the planned declaration: government’s campaign against illegal drugs, criminality, terrorism, and the offensive against the Abu Sayyaf Group.

On November 13, Panelo told ANC that they have been receiving intelligence reports that drug money is being used to fund the rebellion in Mindanao as well as terrorism activities of the Abu Sayyaf, a claim Duterte has not mentioned in his speeches.

Panelo said the plan to suspend the writ is for the President to avoid being “chained” to the judicial process because “if you have 10,000 people involved in the drug menace, you have to file cases against them and you need to secure warrants of arrest as well as search warrants. Now, you have a problem there, it will take you an eternity,” Panelo told ANC.

Rule of law, perdition, stupid proposition

Although he did not repeat his warning to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in his speech before the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila on Monday (Nov. 14), Duterte said that leaders are made to choose. “Either we do something to protect society or do something, sometimes wrong, to protect society.”

“The rule of law is good, if the rules are followed,” he said. “You obey the law, we in government are admonished to say ‘follow the rule of law.’ And that is what makes it hard because if we follow the rule of law, sometimes it would lead to perdition for people and always the accountability of failing to protect the taxpayers and those who rely on government for their safety and for their life,  they lose the gamble in the process when it’s time just to say ‘we are sorry we failed to protect you.’”

He recalled that while serving as mayor in 1988, marijuana and shabu were making the scene in the city and having been a prosecutor for a decade, he tried to do his best by his oath of office.

“I would like to follow the rule of law. It is rules which make up the law but when shabu was coming in strong and fast, we had to make a choice. We innovate the law, the rule of law, or we let our people suffer. That’s the choice. The rule of law and the obedience of the law are just principles of the law and they are really good if everybody follows. The problem is there is no obedience of the law and sometimes the rule of law becomes a stupid proposition.”

Duterte said that when he became mayor in 1988, he warned kidnappers and drug pushers, among others, to get out of his city “because I will kill you.”

“When has it been a crime to say ‘I will kill all the criminals who will destroy my country… destroy the next generation?”   (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)