By William Casis | FilAm Star Correspondent
Leaders of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Malacañang and defense officials were ordered by the Supreme Court to comment on petitions seeking to stop the one-year extension of martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao.
The respondents — Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Executive Sec. Salvador Medialdea, Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, Budget Sec. Benjamin Diokno, Armed Forces Chief Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, and Solicitor Gen. Jose Calida —were given 10 days to file their respective comments.
In an en banc order, the Supreme Court justices said they found the petition filed by opposition lawmakers against the extension to be sufficient in form and substance but deferred taking action on their plea to issue a temporary restraining order.
Rep. Edcel Lagman, along with the other members of the opposition in the House of Representatives, asked the Court to stop the extension of martial law in Mindanao, saying it was unconstitutional.
They also questioned the “inordinate length” — one year — to be illegal.
“This is inordinately long. How can a mere extension be inordinately longer than the original proclamation sought to be extended?” Lagman said.
President Rodrigo Duterte on May 23 imposed martial law in Mindanao after the Islamic City of Marawi was stormed by heavily-armed Islamic State-inspired Maute terrorist group.
In July, Congress voted to prolong military rule in Mindanao until year-end after the 60-day proclamation expired. Lawmakers agreed to extend martial law to give the government authorities more time to stabilize the strife-torn region where ISIS was gaining influence.
Duterte declared the liberation of Malawi City in October, after five months of battle.
However, on December 11, Malacañang asked Congress to extend the martial law in Mindanao for another year.
In its petition, the opposition lawmakers argued that the 1987 Constitution, crafted after the martial law rule of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, contains safeguards against abuse of power.
“Unlike in the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions when the respective durations of the martial law and the suspension of the writ were limitless, the 1987 Constitution mandates that the period of martial law and suspension of the writ shall not exceed 60 days,” the petitioners said.
“It stands to reason that any authorized extension must be similarly limited in duration,” the petition said, adding that the language of the Constitution held that an extension may only be allowed “in the same manner” of duration of the first declaration that is 60 days.
“A strict construction of the power of the Congress to extend martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus upon the initiative of the President requires that an extended period cannot be anymore extended,” Lagman said.
“Otherwise, the intention and mandate of the Constitution limiting the period of martial law and the suspension of the writ and the extension thereof would be breached,” the petitioners said.
Other petitioners include Representatives Tomasito Villarin of Akbayan Citizens’ Action party-list, Edgar Erice of Caloocan City, 2nd District, Teddy Baguilat Jr. of Ifugao, Gary Alejano of Magdalo party-list and Emmanuel Billones of Capiz, 1st District.
The 1987 Constitution requires the Court to issue a decision on any petition on martial law within 60 days from filing.
Malacañang said it remains hopeful that the Supreme Court will trash the latest petition.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said they are confident that the petition will be dismissed by the Supreme Court as there is factual basis as well as legal for the one year extension of martial law in Mindanao,”
He stressed that there remains an “ongoing rebellion in other parts of Mindanao,” even if the rebellion has been suppressed in Marawi City.
“The declaration of martial law covered Mindanao entirely, not just Marawi,” he said.
“The terrorist rebellion is even exacerbated by the communist rebellion. The NPA has intensified its attacks on the government forces and civilians. It has not even honored its own unilateral ceasefire,” he further stated.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said the executive is ready to defend both branches’ position on the proclamation before the Supreme Court.
“The legislative and executive departments have already decided that the further extension of martial law in Mindanao is necessary to quell the remaining terrorists who brought destruction to Marawi and its neighboring communities,” he said in a statement.
Congress approved by a 240-27 vote the extension of the proclamation of martial law.
In this regard, Roque said legal and factual bases of the martial law extension “have been clearly established” based on the security assessment by our ground commanders.