Martial law a ‘flexible concept’ and ‘warning to people’ – Palace exec

December 13, 2017 - 12:01 PM
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AFP chief Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero (from left), Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, Senior Deputy Executive Sec. Menardo Guevarra and Executive Sec. Salvador Medialdea answer questions from lawmakers on the request for Congress to extend martial law by another year. (photo by Bernard Testa, InterAksyon)

MANILA, Philippines — A Palace executive called martial law a “flexible concept” that essentially warns people not to get in the way of government efforts to enforce public safety.

Appearing at the joint of session of Congress Wednesday, December 13, to deliberate and decide President Rodrigo Duterte’s request for a yearlong extension of martial law in Mindanao, Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said military rule “serves as a warning to the people … that the president is exercising an extraordinary power, with the assistance of the military, and that under the pain of arrest and punishment, the citizenry are advised not to make it difficult for the government forces to ensure public safety.”

In general, Guevarra said martial law means “the exercise of police power by the executive, rather than the legislature, and with the assistance of the military to ensure public safety” and that “things that may be done by the president as commander-in-chief are likewise flexible.”

Thus, “hypothetically speaking,” the president can issue orders that will enable warrantless arrests and seizures, ban public assemblies, and take over media.

Asked by Senator Risa Hontiveros what he regarded as the threshold of public safety, Guevarra also called public safety “an abstract concept.”

“It does not have a fixed standard,” he said. “It is determined by actual circumstances on the ground, and based on the information of the president. So it is really a personal judgment call for the president to conclude what is the limit of public safety, or needs of public safety that will require the exercise of his emergency powers.”

“There is no fixed standard to determine public safety. It is all a matter of personal judgment on the part of the executive and in our opinion, this is a prerogative that is exclusive to the chief executive,” he added.

Hontiveros said she was bothered by Guevarra’s response, especially the “bothering terms” and “concepts that should serve as warnings to us,” given the “concrete implications” for people.

She also hoped Guevarra’s mention of possible warrantless arrests, banning of public assemblies and the takeover of media were “not a precursor to what lies ahead.”

The senator also pointed out that martial law “is not a flexible concept” nor is public safety an “abstract concept” as Guevarra claimed.

She further stressed that the reason the Constitution lays down the bases and limits to martial law is because these should not be dependent on the personal judgment of a single person, even if he is the highest elected public official.