LP senators: 'No basis' to suspend writ of habeas corpus

MANILA, Philippines – Senators from the once-ruling Liberal Party (LP) on Sunday, November 13, insisted there is "no basis for the suspension of the Filipino's privilege of the writ of habeas corpus," following President Rodrigo Duterte's warning that he could suspend it if lawlessness – particularly the illegal drug trade – persists in the country.

Through the writ of habeas corpus, courts can order the state to produce the physical body of a detainee. In a ruling, the Supreme Court said the purpose of the writ is to determine the legality of someone's detention. Its suspension would then allow the state to arrest or jail anyone without a warrant or trial.

Duterte made the "warning" in a speech in Davao City on Friday, November 11, as he spoke about the gravity of the narcotics trade in the country. At the same time, he said he doesn't want to suspend the writ of habeas corpus but "might be forced" to do it should lawlessness continue.

The country has been under a "state of national emergency on account of lawless violence" since September following a blast in Duterte's hometown of Davao City that killed 14 people.

But in a statement, LP senators said based on the Constitution, the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus "may only be suspended in cases of invasion and rebellion."

In the Senate, the 4 members of the LP are also part of the majority which is led by Senator Aquilino Pimentel III of Duterte's PDP-Laban. The 4 members are Senator Francis Pangilinan, who is also party president, Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Senator Franklin Drilon, and Senator Leila de Lima.

"The drug menace is not a ground to suspend the privilege of the writ. On the matter of rebellion, the administration is already talking peace with all armed groups, and we are in full support," the 4 said in their joint statement.

They concluded: "We see no basis for the suspension of the Filipino's privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and we shall remain committed to upholding the sacred constitutional safeguards to the rights of the Filipino people."

The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, for example, suspended the writ of habeas corpus when he placed the Philippines under martial law, a time of human rights abuses and forced disappearances.

In a separate statement, De Lima, among Duterte's fiercest critics, said the President "should stop toying with the idea of suspending the writ of habeas corpus in his desperate attempt to legitimize his administration's flawed war against illegal drugs."

"To concede to this temptation would result to more innocent blood gushing, human dignity desecrated, and the basic human rights being blatantly violated," De Lima added.

Since assuming power, Duterte has led a national war on drugs. More than 4,800 deaths have been linked – either directly or indirectly – to the anti-drug campaign.

While at least 1,800 were killed in police operations, more people – at least 3,100 – were killed in vigilante-style killings. Police insist not all "deaths under investigation" are linked to illegal drugs but most cases of apparent vigilante killings in the Philippines involve victims tied, gagged, and shot with handwritten signs that claim they are involved in drugs.

In the past couple of weeks, two mayors were killed in anti-drug operations – Samsudin Dimaukom of Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao, and Rolando Espinosa Sr of Albuera in Leyte. A senator has tagged Espinosa's death as an extrajudicial killing– Rappler.com