Martial Law and Suspension of Writ of Habeas Corpus

   With the rash of bombings in Metro Manila and the battle raging in Mindanao, it is clear that the Philippines is in the throes of a very serious crisis.  The situation today is not unlike that of the early 70’s, and it gave then President Marcos the perfect excuse to declare martial law and thwart any attempt for his removal from power. But that was then and this is now, various changes were introduced by the framers of the 1987 Constitution to discourage would-be dictators from perpetually enshrining themselves in power. In this edition of the law professor, we tackle some of these constitutional provisions.

   Section 18, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution states that:

“The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law. Within forty-eight hours from the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the President shall submit a report in person or in writing to the Congress. 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. Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.

The Congress, if not in session, shall, within twenty-four hours following such proclamation or suspension, convene in accordance with its rules without any need of a call.

The Supreme Court may review, in an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen, the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ or the extension thereof, and must promulgate its decision thereon within thirty days from its filing.

A state of martial law does not suspend the operation of the Constitution, nor supplant the functioning of the civil courts or the legislative assemblies, nor authorize the conferment of jurisdiction on military courts and agencies over civilians where civil courts are able to function, nor automatically suspend the privilege of the writ.

The suspension of the privilege of the writ shall apply only to persons judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in or directly connected with the invasion.

During the suspension of the privilege of the writ, any person thus arrested or detained shall be judicially charged within three days, otherwise he shall be released.”

   From the foregoing it is clear that there are only three instances where martial law may be declared, these are:

a. invasion;
b. rebellion; or,
c. when public safety requires it.

   The period of martial law or suspension of writ of habeas corpus is limited to a period not exceeding sixty (60) days.

   A further safeguard is that a state of martial law requires the concurrence of Congress, which may  by a majority vote, with both house voting jointly, revoke the declaration of martial law or the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. Congress may also extend such proclamation or suspension, for a period to be determined by its members, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it. In addition, the declaration or suspension is subject to review by the Supreme Court in an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen.

   Also, the Constitution shall continue to function and Congress and civil courts shall remain in operation, with the further qualification that no jurisdiction shall be conferred on military tribunals when such courts are open and functioning. This provision was added to prevent the creation of the so-called “kangaroo courts” which were prevalent during the martial law years.