PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte will not ignore the Supreme Court or Congress on the implementation of martial law in Mindanao, the Malacañang Palace said on Monday as it sought to contain backlash over the leader’s controversial remarks last weekend.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the president, in dismissing the court and Congress’ role in deciding whether to extend martial law beyond its current 60 days, had merely wanted to point out it was the country’s military and police forces currently fighting to restore peace in Mindanao who were the ones most aware of the security situation on the ground.
“He (Duterte) is not disrespecting the Supreme Court. He will listen and there will have to be proper dialogue between the president as commander-in-chief,” Abella was quoted saying by The Philippine Star. “They will have an ongoing conversation regarding that,”
Duterte last week imposed 60 days of martial law over the island of Mindanao, which is home to 22 million people, in response to attacks by Islamic militants in the city of Marawi. He also warned martial law could be dragged out for up to a year if necessary.
The decision has spurred fears of a return to widespread human rights abuses as occurred under a decade of martial law imposed by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The 1987 Constitution, however, specifically protects the rights of citizens against abuses carried out under Marcos.
The Constitution also requires Congress to approve the president’s declaration of martial law and should the leader decide to extend the rule beyond 60 days, he will again need congressional endorsement.
The Supreme Court can similarly decide on the legality of the martial law. A petition against the martial law has yet to be filed in court, although rights advocates have sounded warnings against potential abuse by security forces during the period.
Duterte, when responding to these legal provisions over the weekend, suggested he may ignore them should he decide to extend martial law.
“They say after 60 days I should go to congress, I don’t know,” he said, according to the AFP (via Channel News Asia).
“The Supreme Court will say they will examine into the factual (basis). Why, I don’t know. They are not soldiers. They do not know what is happening on the ground,” he said on Saturday.
“Until 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.”
Most of the 200,000 inhabitants of the Muslim-majority city of Marawi have fled since Islamic militants from the so-called Maute group ran amok on Tuesday, setting fire to buildings, freeing militants from jails and taking people hostage at the city’s cathedral.
Malaysians, Indonesians and other foreigners were among the guerrillas killed last week, which the government said demonstrated Islamic State was already present in the Philippines and how the country could become a haven for overseas militants.
Over 100 lives have been claimed so far, according to ABS-CBN News – among them 61 rebels, 19 civilians and over 20 security personnel.