May 30, 2017

After the declaration of martial law in Mindanao last week, Minority Senators Bam Aquino, Leila De Lima, Frank Drilon, Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan, and Antonio Trillanes on Monday filed Senate Resolution No. 390 calling on Congress to perform its “sacred duty and peremptory obligation” and hold a joint session.

The joint session seeks to deliberate President Rodrigo Duterte’s Proclamation No. 216 entitled “Declaring a State of Martial Law and Suspending the Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Whole of Mindanao.”

Citing Section 18, Article VII of the Constitution, the senators said, “Congress has the sacred duty and peremptory obligation to seek information surrounding and assess the factual basis for the proclamation and, if warranted, revoke the same.”

Earlier, several lawmakers said that there is no need for a joint session, and that it is unlikely for Congress to revoke the President’s martial law declaration.

But, the minority senators said the four bases for the conduct of the joint session are:

1. The Supreme Court decision in Fortun v. Macapagal-Arroyo (G.R. No. 190293, March 20, 2012) explains that the President and the Congress “act in tandem” in exercising the power to proclaim martial law or suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

“They exercise the power, not only sequentially, but in a sense jointly since, after the President has initiated the proclamation or the suspension, only the Congress can maintain the same based on its own evaluation of the situation on the ground, a power that the President does not have,” according to the Supreme Court decision.

“Consequently, although the Constitution reserves to the Supreme Court the power to review the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation or suspension in a proper suit, it is implicit that the Court must allow Congress to exercise its own review powers, which is automatic rather than initiated. XXX The constitutional validity of the President’s proclamation of martial law or suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is first a political question in the hands of Congress before it becomes a justiciable one in the hands of the Court,” read the same decision.

2. The senators also cited the nation’s “painful experience with the imposition of martial law under the Marcos dictatorship.”

They said this history “became impetus for the clear limitations on the President’s exercise of the extraordinary powers, including the discretion granted to Congress to make an independent determination if the constitutional grounds for the limited curtailment of the people’s rights are followed.”

3. As the President exercises the most extensive of government powers as head of state, head of government, and the commander-in-chief, his extra powers to declare martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus must strictly comply with the Constitution.

4. Moreover, they noted the “constitutional mandates of transparency and accountability in government, respecting the right of the citizen to information of public interest, and the fundamental underlying principle of checks and balances amongst the separate branches of government.”

Thus, the minority senators said, a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives should determine the constitutional and factual validity of the proclamation, prevent abuses in its implementation, and ensure the safety of the people of Marawi and the whole of Mindanao.