That pesky proviso on habeas corpus – Jarius Bondoc

Don’t worry about Rodrigo Duterte suspending the writ of habeas corpus, spokesmen say. The President is just “articulating an idea and a hyperbole.” Supposedly there’s need to “create awareness … about terrorists … lawless violence … by drug lords.” So please use “creative imagination” to interpret his remarks, the press is advised.


No true journalist would fantasize news. It’s unethical. Reports must be straight and quotes right, in the contexts of real events. Duterte did say he is no fan, and the people are afraid, of martial law. But he “will not hesitate to suspend the writ,” meaning jail citizens without charges, to quell … crime.

Those words set off adverse reactions. No downplaying by spokesmen could assure that it’s only innocent musings. In a land where a past President scrapped the writ and imposed martial law to prolong his power and plunder the national wealth, that’s expected. One senator noted that the administration is boasting of routing the Islamist terrorists in Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi and of curbing street crimes by 49 percent, so what’s all this talk about lawless violence? Another said there’s definitely no rebellion or invasion to justify a writ suspension.

Still let’s oblige the spokesmen and stretch the imagination. Assume that a ruthless authoritarian President plans not only to suspend the writ but also defy Congress and the Supreme Court. That despot would have to find loopholes in the Constitution’s Article VII, Executive Department. Section 18, which states:

“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 60 days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law. Within 48 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 24 hours following such proclamation or suspension, convene in accordance with its rules without 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 30 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 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 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.”

That constitutional proviso is so detailed that our creatively imagined ruthless authoritarian has many ways to thwart it. Like, he can instruct the usually malleable House of Reps, consisting of 296 members, to drown out in the joint session the vote of the Senate which has only 24. Or he can have road and airport checkpoints to deter their convening within 24 hours.

As for the Supreme Court, our imagined despot can bribe or coerce the justices to bend its review of the bases of the writ suspension to suit him. Any magistrate who digresses shall be retired early.

A plundering President can employ a thousand and one other tricks to perpetuate himself in power. It has been done before, in fact. That dictator padlocked Congress and emasculated the Supreme Court. Tens of thousands who resisted him were killed, tortured, abducted, raped, and imprisoned without charges. And he was just given an undeserved hero’s burial last Friday at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.


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