Congress not duty-bound to convene on martial law – Calida

MANILA, Philippines – Solicitor General Jose Calida believes Congress is not duty-bound to convene on martial law if it does not intend to revoke President Rodrigo Duterte's proclamation.

"A plain reading of the relevant part of Section 18, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution shows that Congress is not required to vote jointly in cases of affirmation or concurrence with the proclamation of martial law," Calida said in his consolidated comment submitted to the Supreme Court (SC) and released to media on Tuesday, June 27.

Calida's consolidated comment was a required response to two petitions filed before the SC asking the High Court to compel Congress to convene on martial law.

The provision Calida was referring to is this: "The Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its Members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President."

According to the Solicitor General, the 1987 Constitution requires Congress to vote jointly only in the event of revocation. For Calida, because both the Senate and the House of Representatives issued resolutions expressing support for the proclamation, convening is not necessary.

Petitioners, however, insist otherwise. For them, the 1987 Constitution requires the joint session no matter the intention – whether to revoke or to affirm.

The petitioners also said the conflicting interpretations are precisely why the SC should clarify the provision now. They said one of the qualifications for a judicial review is when an actual case of controversy exists.

"The case of controversy requirement is satisfied by the antagonistic positions of the parties on the meaning of pertinent portions of Article VII, Section 18 of the Constitution," reads the petition filed by the group of detained Senator Leila de Lima.

Transparency

The De Lima group is composed of lawyers, including former solicitor general Florin Hilbay and constitutionalist Christian Monsod. The other group of petitioners, led by former senator Wigberto Tañada, includes Catholic bishops and student leaders.

Both groups have said the joint session will be honoring the right of the public to listen to deliberations on such an important proclamation.

But Calida said there is an exception.

"It is well-settled that there is a governmental privilege against public disclosure with respect to state secrets regarding military, diplomatic, and other national security matters," said the Solicitor General.

"Accordingly, the exchange of ideas during congressional deliberations, free from the public eye and pressure by interested parties, is essential to protect the independence of the decision-making of the legislature," he added.

Can SC compel Congress?

Calida also said the principle of separation of powers prevents the SC from compelling Congress to convene on martial law.

"It is clear that under the separation of powers, courts may not intervene in the internal affairs of the legislature; it is not within the province of courts to direct Congress how to do its work," the Solicitor General said.

Even legal experts cannot say categorically whether the SC can issue orders to the legislative branch, or the executive branch for that matter, creating the perception that a constitutional crisis is looming.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has already warned of a constitutional crisis, which is why he urged Congress to convene.

Lawyer and political analyst Tony La Viña explains it this way: Co-equal branches of government cannot tell each other what to do. The High Court can declare that something is unconstitutional, but when the other branches "insist on doing something that's unconstitutional," that's when the problem begins. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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