"This is not a battle we will take sitting down," Vice President Leni Robredo said on Friday, joining her voice with those of lawmakers and victims of military abuses alarmed by President Duterte's statement on Thursday that he wanted the Constitution amended to allow Philippine leaders to wield martial law powers without judicial and congressional approval.
"The threat of a return to martial law and one-man rule is the worst Christmas gift to the Filipino people," Robredo said in a statement, urging the public to show indignation against Mr. Duterte's implied threat to democracy.
"As Filipinos, we have demonstrated our courage to stand up and make our voices heard for the sake of protecting our freedom and fighting for the truth," Robredo said, reminding the nation about the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution that toppled the dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power.
She said Mr. Duterte's desire to eliminate hindrances to the proclamation of martial law was an insult to the Filipino experience under the Marcos dictatorship.
"[F]or President Duterte to challenge the democratic safeguards in the very Constitution he swore to uphold on June 30, 2016, is appalling," Robredo said.
Responding to Robredo, presidential chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said the Vice President's fears caused by Mr. Duterte's comments were "misplaced."
He said Mr. Duterte wanted the amendment not only for himself but also for all Presidents who would succeed him.
Speaking in Pampanga province on Thursday, Mr. Duterte said he wanted the martial law provisions in the Constitution amended to remove the requirement of legislative and judicial review.
He said conflicting findings of Congress and the Supreme Court could spell trouble.
Only the President should be giving directions in a situation that has warranted the proclamation of martial law, he said.
"If I declare martial law and there is an invasion or war, I cannot proceed on and on, especially if there is trouble. I have to go to Congress, I have to go to the Supreme Court if anybody would file a complaint to look into the factual [basis of the declaration]," he said.
Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution states that in case of rebellion or invasion, when the public safety requires it, the President may, for a period of 60 days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part of the country under martial law.
Within 48 hours of the proclamation of martial law, however, the President must submit a report to Congress in person or in writing.
Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its members in regular or special session, may revoke the proclamation of martial law or suspension of the privilege of habeas corpus, which the President cannot set aside.
If martial law is proclaimed while Congress is not in session, Congress must convene within 24 hours of the proclamation without need of a call.
The provision also states that the Supreme Court may review a petition filed by any citizen of the Philippines questioning the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, and the court must promulgate its decision within 30 days from the filing of the petition.
"But what if the world is in chaos?" Mr. Duterte asked. "That's why there is martial law, so that only one person would be giving directions."
In case of conflicting findings by Congress and the Supreme Court, the police and the President would not know which to follow, Mr. Duterte said.
"That's why I want to change that. But there is a safety measure there. I'll tell you later," he said.
The 1986 constitutional commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution provided the safeguards to make it hard for any President to repeat the abuses under Marcos.
But Mr. Duterte called the provision of those safeguards in the 1987 Constitution an "almost reckless reaction" to the rule of Marcos, in whose Cabinet his father served.
Lawmakers balked at Mr. Duterte's idea.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, a member of the minority bloc in the House of Representatives, said on Friday that Mr. Duterte's words betrayed his "dictatorial tendency."
"The people should be wary of such pronouncements of the President," he said. "We should remember Duterte was a virtual dictator for over two decades in Davao City, where thousands died under questionable circumstances," he said.
Now, Alejano said, Mr. Duterte wants the same kind of power at the national level.
"He has a dictatorial tendency. That explains why Duterte keeps on floating the issue of martial law and probably the reason why he allowed the burial of Marcos [at Libingan ng mga Bayani]," he said, adding that Mr. Duterte wanted to see whether Filipinos were ready for martial law under another dictator.
"We understand what the President is saying, but . . . we cannot once more allow one man to also make the decision by himself," Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said. "We learned from Mr. Marcos. We say never again!"
Congress and the Supreme Court "will not allow that to happen," Cagayan de Oro Rep. Maximo Rodriguez said. "Remember, in Congress it's a coalition only, and the Supreme Court will strike down any attempt to betray our Constitution."
Drug war truth
Sen. Grace Poe also opposed Mr. Duterte's plan, saying it was the wrong reason to amend the Constitution.
She said there was no need to proclaim martial law if Mr. Duterte's claim that his administration was winning the war on illegal drugs was true.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, who ministers to the Tondo slum district where many drug suspects have been killed by police in Mr. Duterte's war on drugs, said the country was now under virtual martial rule due to the crackdown.
"It is not necessary that you have a declaration of martial law to have martial law," he said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Mr. Duterte's shifting position on martial rule was not reassuring.
"He said a few days ago that martial law was stupid and didn't work, and yet now he says something else. His lack of clarity is a serious cause for concern," he said.
Bonifacio Ilagan, imprisoned and tortured under Marcos' martial law reign, said Mr. Duterte could be floating a "trial balloon" to gauge public opinion before taking actual steps to amend the Constitution.
"I honestly believe that the people will resist," he said.
In Malacañang, Panelo reminded reporters that Mr. Duterte had repeatedly said that he had no intention to declare martial law.
Panelo said the safety measure mentioned by Mr. Duterte was the Filipinos themselves.
The Filipinos have kicked out two Presidents, he said.
"So that's the safeguard. It's us. We still have the voice. We will decide. No President can decide for us," he said. -WITH REPORTS FROM MAILA AGER, INQUIRER.NET, AND AFP