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What is state of lawless violence?

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LAW EXPERTS on Saturday said the people’s rights should not be affected by President Duterte’s declaration of a “state of lawlessness,” as it is limited to calling out the military to help the police suppress violence.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II stressed the constitutionality of the declaration, which came hours after an explosion killed 14 people and wounded 68 others at a night market in Mr. Duterte’s hometown, Davao City.


Mr. Duterte’s authority under the declaration is limited to summoning armed forces to suppress violence “through ordinary police action,” according to Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Rosario Setias-Reyes.

Aguirre said the declaration did not amount to an imposition of martial law. Instead, it was a “precautionary measure” that had factual basis in the explosion.

“As Commander in Chief, [he is mandated] to protect the people. The [Armed Forces of the Philippines] is constitutionally mandated to protect the people from lawlessness,” Aguirre said in a text message.

Rule of law

Asked about its effect on people’s rights, Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Rueda-Acosta said “legal and substantive rights are protected because this [is] part of the rule of law.”

Acosta said the President had the power to “call out” the armed forces to maintain the rule of law and prevent any lawless violence under Article VII, Section 18, of the 1987 Constitution.

She also stressed that police power is one of the inherent powers of the state, alongside eminent domain and taxation.

“The only aim of the declaration is to suppress and prevent lawlessness and violence,” Acosta said.

Reyes, in a text message to the Inquirer, cited two Supreme Court decisions that defined the limits of the President’s power under Article VII, Section 18, of the Constitution.

She said that under the President’s exercise of the “calling-out” power, “the authority of the President appears to be limited only to the summoning of the armed forces to assist in the suppression of lawless violence, invasion or rebellion through ordinary police action.”

“Any act beyond it shall be considered illegal,” Reyes said.

She recalled the 2006 Supreme Court ruling in David v. Arroyo, which found unconstitutional several acts during the “state of national emergency” declared in the aftermath of a supposedly foiled coup attempt.

The ruling hit the warrantless arrests of Prof. Randolf S. David and Ronald Llamas, the dispersal of the rallies and the warrantless arrest of Kilusang Mayo Uno members, the imposition of standards on the press, and the warrantless search of the Daily Tribune offices.

Reyes also noted the 2000 Supreme Court ruling in IBP
v. Zamora, which provided the only criterion for exercising the calling-out power of the President.

The criterion, she said, is “whenever it becomes necessary … to prevent or suppress lawless violence or rebellion.”

“Owing to the vast intelligence network of the Office of the President, [the President] is in the best position to determine the actual condition of the country,” Reyes said.

Ateneo School of Government Dean Antonio La Viña said the declaration provided extraordinary powers to allow Duterte to “wage a most efficacious defense of the nation in times of crisis, without being unduly straitjacketed by structural and bureaucratic restraints.”

‘Most benign’

La Viña explained in a Facebook post that summoning armed forces to combat lawless violence under the declaration is the “most benign” of the powers allowed under Article VII, Section 18.

Martial law is the power that is “most serious and carries the most impact on the social and political life of the nations,” he said.

But La Viña noted that the level of conflict warranting such extraordinary powers tends to “depend on this wide presidential discretion.”

He cited the Supreme Court’s ruling in David v. Arroyo that said “the power is by and large a discretionary power solely vested on the President’s wisdom.”

“For which reason, emergency rule becomes fraught with opportunities for abuse; a gateway to constitutional shortcuts. Once emergency rule is declared, the constitutional bonds are loosened that could create a window of opportunity for unrestricted power,” he said.

La Viña said the 1987 Constitution was designed with a pervading theme to “do away with all possibilities of strongman rule, no doubt a painful lesson of the Marcos dictatorship


This design meant the creation of an intricate system of checks and balances that calls for Congress’ participation when the President can invoke more serious powers such as emergency powers, the declaration of a state of war, or the imposition of martial law.

Not legally insignificant

Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of San Beda College Graduate School of Law, said that while the declaration was “nothing alarming … neither is it legally insignificant.”

In a Facebook post, Aquino said it was a signal to the legislature that Mr. Duterte may ask for emergency powers.

Aquino said that while checkpoints have always been allowed in normal circumstances, the declaration means “only that their usefulness becomes more urgent now.”

“Does that allow police officers to search so thoroughly that they can forcibly open gloves and baggage compartment? No, but they can request you to open these and it would be wise for one to cooperate,” he said.

National Union of People’s Lawyers secretary general Edre Olalia said that calling out the military to suppress lawless violence “does not mean the power to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part [of it] under martial law.”

La Viña said the extraordinary powers of the President could be considered, at best, “a necessary evil.”

But he cautioned that “extraordinary powers should only be invoked as a last resort.”

“It should never be considered normal, must never be lightly granted by Congress, and if the right case or controversy comes, the Supreme Court have to scrutinize this carefully,” he said.

While there exists the “ever-present possibility” of the slippery slope of frequently invoking emergency rule, La Viña said: “For now, [Mr.] Duterte’s declaration does not appear to lead us to that slope, but we must be vigilant.”

This is not the first time a part of the Philippines has been placed under the “state of lawless violence.”

A state of emergency was mostly recently declared on April 2, 2003, by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, after two explosions rocked the old Davao International Airport and the Sasa Wharf, killing 38 people and wounded a hundred others.

But, the 2003 declaration was limited to Davao City, unlike Saturday’s declaration by Mr. Duterte, which covers the entire Philippines.

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