Senators to Duterte: No basis to declare martial law

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Several senators on Monday, January 16, criticized President Rodrigo Duterte for talking again about the possibility of declaring martial law, saying there's no basis for it.

The extent to which the senators are taking the President's statement seriously, however, varies.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III downplayed it. "Don't worry about martial law declaration. I'm sure the President would make a lot of consultations before doing that. And he will be reminded about the constitutional provisions about martial law," Pimentel said.

Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said there is neither a rebellion nor a foreign invasion that would compel the President to choose such an extreme measure. (READ: Duterte: I will declare martial law if I want to)

"There is no basis to declare martial law. Rebellion has been tamed. No foreign army is steaming towards our shores to invade us. And as the President himself likes to brag, crime is down and the people are safe in their homes and communities," Recto said in a statement.

"And as to the real enemies of the people – joblessness, hunger, poor social services – these cannot by suppressed by the armed forces," he added.

Yet, Recto likened Duterte's "bluster" to that of a dog that always barks but seldom bites. It's an "outlandish threat" that's part of the President's "oratorical repertoire," the senator said.

"His bluster should be likened to a dog that always barks but seldom bites. This thing about martial law should be filed under outlandish threats like riding a Jetski to the Spratlys, or feeding the fish of Manila Bay with bodies of salvage victims," said Recto, referring to the past hyperbolic statements of the President.

Senator Risa Hontiveros questioned Duterte's apparent obsession with martial law.

"I thought the government said it's winning the war on drugs? So why is President Duterte contemplating now imposing martial law as a response to the drug problem? Why does the President seem so obsessed with dictatorial rule when the majority of the people want democratic governance?" Hontiveros said in a text message.

Hontiveros reminded Duterte of a recent Pulse Asia survey showing 7 out of 10 Filipinos rejecting military rule.

"There is no social and political base and/or support for martial law. It has no place in a democratic society," Hontiveros said. "I am afraid that President Duterte is only courting the people's ire with his threats of dictatorship."

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said Filipinos should now prepare for the battle ahead.

"All freedom-loving Filipinos should start preparing to fight another dictator. Soldiers should also start reviewing their consitutional mandate," said Trillanes, a former soldier and ex-coup plotter.

'For the Filipino people'

For Senator Manny Pacquiao, however, the President would only act with the people's welfare in mind.

"Mag-declare siya [ng] martial law, eh kung para naman sa kabutihan ng sambayanang Pilipino, why not?" said Pacquiao, a staunch Duterte ally, in an interview.

(If he declares martial law, if it's for the benefit of the Filipino people, why not?)

"Kasi ang Pangulo 'di 'yan naghahangad sa sarili. Kilala ko 'yan. Ang hangad niyan ay kabutihan, kaayusan. Ayaw niya ng may inaagrabyado, inaapi," Pacquiao said. "Ina-assure ko sa kanila, kilala ko si Presidente. Ina-assure ko sa kanila, lahat ng ginagawa ng Pangulo para sa taumbayan. Wala siyang gagawin para sa kanyang sarili. Believe me, believe me."

(The President is not after his own interests. I know him. He is only after the good of the people and order in society. He does not want people getting abused. I assure the public that I know the President. I assure them that everything the President does is for the people. He is not pursuing selfish motives. Believe me, believe me.)

Pacquiao added that there may be a need for martial law since there are still "hard-headed" criminals even though the government has intensified its war on drugs.

"Sa akin kung ano desisyon niya (Duterte), rerespetuhin ko. Kasi ako nanonood ako parati ng news, 'yung mga tao. Can you imagine, massive na 'yung campaign against illegal drugs tapos ang tigas ng ulo ng mga tao, ayaw pa rin nila huminto. Kumbaga kung pabayaan natin 'yan, nadadamay 'yung mga inosenteng mamamayan na walang kaalam-alam sa mga bisyo," the senator said.

(For me, whatever decision Duterte makes, I will support it. I regularly watch the news and I see the people. Can you imagine, there is already a massive campaign against illegal drugs and yet there are still hard-headed people who won't stop? If we allow this to continue, the innocent would be victimized.)

Malacañang vs media

But Malacañang over the weekend said the media "misreported" Duterte's martial law remarks, saying they should have considered the President's past statement that he won't declare martial law since the Philippines' previous experience with it "didn't improve lives."

Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon assailed the Palace over its remark, saying the press should not be blamed for reporting what the President said.

Drilon cautioned Duterte from making any public statements that cultivate fear and tension.

"The truth is, mere talk of martial law is enough to send chills to the spine of any Filipino. Therefore, it is something that should not be taken lightly," the senator said.

"We call on the administration to exercise prudence in making public statements that are very disturbing and could create undue fear and tension in the country," he added.

President has no unilateral power

Recto rejected Duterte's claim that nobody could stop him if and when he decides to declare martial law.

Citing the 1987 Constitution, Recto said Congress has the power to revoke the declaration if deemed inappropriate.

"Another claim which has no legal leg to stand on is the assertion that the declaration of martial law is a unilateral act of the chief executive," he said.

According to Article VII, Section 8 of the 1987 Constitution, martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus can only be done "in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it."

The President must also submit a report to Congress, whether in person or in writing, within 48 hours. If Congress disagrees with the President, it can vote jointly to revoke the proclamation by "a vote of at least a majority of all its members in regular or special session."

If the proclamation is to last for more than 60 days, Congress has to approve the extension. The declaration is also subject to review by the Supreme Court "for the sufficiency of the factual basis" of the proclamation. –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email