In May 2017, an exasperated President Rodrigo Duterte issued Proclamation 216, placing the entire Mindanao under martial law, after the Maute group of bandits practically seized control of Marawi City, the hotbed of the Muslim insurgency on the island.
With the proclamation of martial law, President Duterte called on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to quell the lawlessness in Marawi City and in Mindanao with deadly force if necessary.
The use of deadly force turned out to be not only necessary but indispensable to quelling the insurgency and fighting a bandit group that was armed for a war. Fighting was so extensive that Marawi City was in ruins after the Maute group had been beaten.
Although the AFP restored law and order to Marawi City, the remaining armed stragglers of the Maute group, their supporters and similarly-minded insurgents went underground to continue their resistance.
People who have had enough of the banditry in Mindanao welcomed martial law. They saw it as the solution to the lawlessness in the area, long neglected by President Duterte’s predecessors, ex-President Benigno Aquino III in particular.
Under the Constitution, martial law is to last for just two months, unless extended by Congress.
Before the expiration date for martial law in Mindanao, President Duterte asked Congress to extend it for six months, to last up to the end of 2017. His request was granted.
By the end of 2017, President Duterte again requested Congress to extend martial law in Mindanao, this time for a whole year. Congress obliged.
During those months, law and order were restored in Marawi City and the peace and order situation in Mindanao greatly improved.
The constitutionality of Proclamation 216 was challenged by hollow leaders of the political opposition, including Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, former Commission on Human Rights Chairman Etta Rosales and former Commission on Elections Chairman Christian Monsod.
The Supreme Court (SC) dismissed their petition.
Earlier this year, President Duterte once again asked for a one-year extension from Congress. His request was granted once again. This is his third request for an extension. No incidents of massive or serious abuses on the part of the AFP were reported.
Withal, Lagman has expressed his plan to challenge in the SC the third extension granted by Congress to President Duterte regarding martial law in Mindanao. Lagman insists that maintaining law and order in Mindanao is possible without resorting to martial law.
With the previous ruling of the High Court as an indicator, it is very unlikely for Lagman and his likes to obtain a judgment annulling the third extension given by Congress to keep Mindanao under martial law.
First of all, the SC is not in a position to make a proper assessment of the law, peace and order situation in Mindanao. Unless the resort to martial law has been tainted with grave abuse of discretion, the issue regarding the extension of martial law in Mindanao is best left to the military establishment operating in Mindanao under the President of the Philippines as its commander-in-chief.
Second, the phantoms the political opposition associates with martial law are fears largely emanating from martial law during the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos. Those phantoms are no more because explicit provisions in the present Constitution have virtually diluted the possibility that resort to martial law may be attended with abuses.
Finally, the approval obtained by President Duterte from Congress means that the extension of martial law in Mindanao is a joint undertaking of both the executive and legislative departments in a realm outside the traditional and conventional expertise of the judicial department. That fact alone makes it very difficult for the unelected branch of the government to review and revise a policy pronouncement of the two others.