The Supreme Court (SC) en banc on Friday, December 29 has directed executive and legislative officials to answer a petition questioning the constitutionality of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao.
In its order to comment, the high court declared the petition to be sufficient in both form and substance.
Among the respondents are Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, and Armed Forces chief Rey Leonardo Guerrero.
The SC gave them a “non-extendable” period of 10 days to reply to the petition.
“Considering the allegations contained, the issues raised and the arguments adduced in the petition, it is necessary and proper, without giving due course to the petition, to require the respondents to comment on the petition and prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) or writ of preliminary injunction,” the SC order read.
The petition was filed by members of the House of Representatives’ so-called “Magnificent Seven,” led by Albay Representative Edcel Lagman. Other petitioners include Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin, Caloocan 2nd District Representative Edgar Erice, Ifugao Representative Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Jr., Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, Capiz 1st District Emmanuel A. Billones, and Northern Samar Representative Raul Daza.
Lagman hailed the high court’s order to comment, saying that it meant their petition passed the first hurdle at the SC.
“This augurs well for the petition which has survived the preliminary gauntlet which petitions have to pass through in the high court,” Lagman said.
In their petition, the opposition lawmakers asked the high court to issue a TRO against Congress’ approval to retain the military rule in Mindanao until December 31, 2018.
They argued that the re-extension should be declared “null and void” because there is “no actual rebellion” in the area, and that a second extension itself violates the Constitution. They expressed fear that it may lead to “extensions in perpetuity.”
The lawmakers also accused Pimentel and Alvarez of “unduly constrict[ing] the period of deliberation and interpellation on the subject extension so much so that the president’s request for extension was approved without basis and with inordinate haste.”
The continuing threats posed by Islamic State (IS)-inspired terrorists and local terrorist groups, including their recruitment efforts, were among the grounds Duterte cited for his extension request.
Congress approved the one-year extension of martial law after the Senate voted 14-4 and the House voted 226-23 in favor of extending military rule in the area on December 13.
Malacañang said it is prepared to defend its position before the high court.
In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque pointed out that both legal and factual bases of the martial law extension “have been clearly established based on the security assessment by our ground commanders.”
“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 added.
Malacañang also assured that Duterte will not allow perpetual extensions of martial law, adding that endless military rule is “patently unconstitutional.”