Alvarez: Congress will suspend habeas corpus only if Duterte justifies it

MANILA, Philippines – House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez gave assurances on Monday, November 14, that Congress would only approve the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus with a proper justification from President Rodrigo Duterte. 

This comes after the President warned last week that he can suspend the privilege of habeas corpus if the threat of lawlessness – particularly in the illegal drug trade – continues in the country. 

Police and military units in Maguindanao are reportedly on heightened alert following the death of Datu Saudi Ampatuan Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom in a shootout with police at a checkpoint in October. 

Well, entitled naman ang Presidente diyan at sang-ayon sa Saligang Batas ng Pilipinas. Ngayon, nasa sa desisyon niya ‘yan kung sa tingin niya ay kinakailangan na suspendihin ang writ of habeas corpus. Dapat pagpasyahan niya sapagkat Presidente lang ang puwedeng magpasya,” Alvarez told GMA News TV. 

(Well, the President is entitled to that based on the Constitution of the Philippines. Now, it is up to him if he wants to suspend the privilege of habeas corpus. He should be the one to decide because only he can do that.)

Kung talaga namang kinakailangan, bakit hindi ilulusot? At kung hindi naman kailangan, talagang hindi lulusot iyan. As I’ve said before, hindi naman tayo rubber stamp ng Malacañang,” added Alvarez, who is the secretary-general of Duterte’s PDP-Laban party. 

(If it is really needed, why won’t we let it through? And if it is not needed, we won’t pass it. As I’ve said before, we are not a rubber stamp of Malacañang.)

The 1987 Constitution allows the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus "in case of invasion and rebellion, when the public safety requires it.” Doing so would allow the state to arrest and jail anyone without trial.

Section 18, Article VII mandates that the President submit a report of the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus within 48 hours upon his or her proclamation. The majority of both houses of Congress, voting jointly, would then have to decide to accept or revoke the suspension.

Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, however, already toned down Duterte’s pronouncement, saying suspending the privilege is “just an idea.”

Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa already expressed support for the possible suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, saying it would “make [their] job easier.” 

Testing the waters

But several lawmakers and groups criticized Duterte’s pronouncement, saying there is no need to suspend the privilege at the moment. (READ: LP senators: 'No basis' to suspend writ of habeas corpus)

AKO Bicol Representative Rodel Batocabe, who is part of the House supermajority allied with the President, said the writ of habeas corpus cannot be suspended in the name of the war on drugs.

“Offhand [right now], I don’t see any reason [to have a] suspension of the privilege of the writ. It cannot be used on the war against drugs,” Batocabe said during the Ugnayan press conference on Monday.

He said there are no recent cases of invasion or rebellion in the Philippines that could justify the suspension.

The party-list lawmaker added that Duterte may have made the pronouncement to test the waters.

Ang nakikita ko po, tinitignan po niya ang pulso ng bayan. Tinitignan po niya kung gusto ng bayan na magkaroon ng [suspension ng] privilege of habeas corpus. Kasi kahit sinasabi ng ating Constitution na kailangan ng factual circumstances, it has something to do also with the political will of the people,” said Batocabe.  

(What I can see is that he is checking the pulse of the nation. He is checking if the public wants to have a suspension of the privilege of habeas corpus. The Constitution says factual circumstances are needed, but it has something to do also with the political will of the people.) 

House supermajority will not be an issue?

Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta Representative Jericho Nograles, meanwhile, said the President may also just be maximizing all available options to him as of the moment, considering there are ongoing peace negotiations with rebel groups.  

“So you have two sides of the same person talking here. The President of the Republic welcomes peace and at the same time, he is not letting go of the options that are available to him, and that is inherent in his office,” said Nograles.  

He added that the alliance of more than 250 congressmen with Duterte would not get in the way of their decision should the President move to suspend the privilege.

“That is the job of Congress. That if Congress will not be convinced in the justification of any call for emergency powers, then Congress would have to move to revoke such calls,” said Nograles. 

Batocabe agreed, citing lawmakers’ role as representatives of the people. 

It’s a very sensitive issue. Pagdating sa writ of habeas corpus, kailangan mapakita talaga ang factual determination, the circumstances ng rebellion or invasion. Otherwise, kung masyadong wala namang basehan, ang babalikan ng taongbayan, kami po bilang kinatawan nila sa Congress,” he said. 

(When it comes to the writ of habeas corpus, the factual determination, circumstances of the rebellion or invasion must be established. Otherwise, if it has no basis, then the people will blame us since we are their representatives in Congress.) – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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