POSTSCRIPT / May 30, 2017 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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We’re now headed for one-man rule?

THIS TIRED Filipino, this one voter, is tempted to take the line of least resistance and stop asking questions about President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law adventure in Mindanao.

It seems pointless anyway to continue taking the traditional adversarial stance of a libertarian press vis-à-vis the government.

With the Congress controlled by politicians wallowing in pelf and power poised to give its accustomed stamp of approval to Duterte-style martial law — and with key segments of the community largely intimidated — one more discordant voice won’t register anyway. So why bother?

But we were alarmed over the weekend by media reports from Jolo about President Duterte telling soldiers that he would ignore the Congress, and even the Supreme Court, if these co-equal departments acted or ruled against his legal theory of martial law.

He told the troops: “Until the police and the armed forces say the Philippines is safe, this martial law will continue. I will not listen to others. The Supreme Court, Congress, they are not here.

“Are they the ones dying and losing blood, bleeding, hemorrhaging because there is no help, no reinforcement? It’s not they.”

With some of his public utterances clashing with constitutional requirements on martial law, we cannot help asking if President Duterte has decided to follow a path to one-man rule.

The Constitution says in Section 18, Article VII, that the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus can be suspended under martial law only for cases related to invasion and rebellion and that proper charges must be filed in three days or the suspects are released.

Yet, Mr. Duterte told soldiers last Friday that they were allowed to conduct searches and arrests without court warrants: “During martial law, your commanders, you, you can arrest any person, search any house. There is no more warrant needed.”

The need for warrants was among the limitations written in the 1987 Constitution to prevent the repetition of abuses experienced under Marcosian martial law — which Mr. Duterte, incidentally, has described as “very good.”

One week after he signed Proclamation No. 216 imposing martial law, Mr. Duterte has not issued the implementing guidelines for those affected, including soldiers who just carry out their superiors’ orders and civilians who will have to rely on their survival instincts.

The President is a lawyer surrounded by legal advisers. It is perplexing to hear him tell soldiers to disregard the constitutional safeguards, and for him to ignore the Congress and the Supreme Court.

Some skeptics are asking if Mr. Duterte also has in mind scrapping the Constitution, like Marcos did in 1972 to lay the basis for one-man rule.

• Duterte to defy Congress, SC?

DUTERTE-STYLE martial law is sure to be affirmed by a captive Congress once the supermajorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives receive their, huh, marching orders.

A senator or congressman who values his political future, or that of family members, or their businesses, will do everything to be on the safe side – by staying close to the President who will carry the 2019 elections. Those whose dossiers in the Palace are ripe for harvest must also behave.

After sailing through the Congress, the martial law proclamation is likely to face a legal challenge before the Supreme Court where some citizens are set to question its factual basis.

The government must show that there was either an invasion or a rebellion in Mindanao – the two bases for declaring martial law — when the President signed the proclamation on May 23, 2017.

Must the reckoning be on that date, because the invasion or rebellion was alleged to have been the basis of the proclamation? What if there was no such situation that day, but the fighting in Marawi merely progressed into rebellion as a result of the proclamation?

Was the presence of a few foreign fighters in Marawi and/or the Maute terrorists’ displaying ISIS flags and claiming they were “inspired” by the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) proof of an invasion or rebellion? Is an ISIS declaration of a Maute connection required?

But it appears that all those questions would be irrelevant, as President Duterte said he would not listen to the Supreme Court since its not being “on the ground” makes it incompetent to make a factual judgment.

What if the President refuses to abide by the SC decision? Who would enforce a ruling against a President claiming popular support? This could trigger a constitutional crisis.

Or could it be that when the President telegraphed defiance, he was just throwing a tactical bluff?

• New TV business show due

THE MEDIA grapevine has it that veteran business editors Ernie Tolentino and Lito Gagni are set to host a purely business program, titled “Business Angle” — an offshoot of their tabloid Business Express — that looks at an evolving economic story from a different perspective.

Set for a July launch on TV5, the one-hour program promises to present new angles to a business storyline drawn from their years of business reportage, show producer Elmer C. Ngo of the Cherrylume group of companies said.

In a recent issue of Business Express, for instance, the two editors headlined what they believed was a coming property balloon bubble about to burst as they looked at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas survey results of commercial real estate credits.

Coupled with this BSP survey was the tightening by commercial banks of their real estate loan windows and the paper’s look at the big number of unsold condos of property firms. It is for their insight into such stories, given a new perspective, that the two editors were engaged for a TV program devoted to business.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 30, 2017)

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