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Martial Law in Retrospect

The People Power Revolution in 1986 marked a new beginning for Filipinos. It ushered in a new era of democracy, which has been left unfelt over Marcos’ tenure as the President of the Philippines. The Dictator’s rule was marred by numerous documented violations of human rights. These were rights the government itself was supposed to protect during the Martial law era. This has been an established fact already in Philippine history which begs to question just how these atrocities were committed so blatantly, notwithstanding the explicit guarantees under the then prevailing Constitution.

In the case of Javallena v. Executive secretary, wherein the issue of ratification of the 1973 constitution was being contested, the Supreme Court ruled that the ratification of the New (Martial Law) Constitution was valid and substantially complied with, in Justice Barredo’s words: “(A)s to whether or not the 1973 Constitution has been validly ratified pursuant to Article XV, I still maintain that in the light of traditional concepts regarding the meaning and intent of said Article [referring to the 1935 Constitution], the referendum in the Citizens’ Assemblies, specially in the manner the votes therein were cast, reported and canvassed, falls short of the requirements thereof. In view, however, of the fact that I have no means of refusing to recognize as a judge that factually there was voting and that the majority of the votes were for considering as approved the 1973 Constitution without the necessity of the usual form of plebiscite followed in past ratifications, I am constrained to hold that, in the political sense, if not in the orthodox legal sense, the people may be deemed to have cast their favorable votes in the belief that in doing so they did the part required of them by Article XV, hence, it may be said that in its political aspect, which is what counts most, after all, said Article has been substantially complied with, and, in effect, the 1973 Constitution has been constitutionally ratified.” In effect, President Marcos was given the power to continue Martial law by the 1973 Constitution.

The case of Sanidad v. COMELEC also highlighted the lack of safeguards needed to protect the Filipino people from abuses of the government through the concentration of the power to the president. In this case, wherein the power of the president to call upon a referendum according to the 1935 constitution, the Supreme Court ruled that the president has the authority to propose amendments as the governmental powers are generally concentrated to the president in times of crisis. It is for this very reason that the referendum was allowed to be put in place, without any check and balance by the other branches of the government.

On the other hand, the case of Aquino, Jr. v. COMELEC challenged the legislative power of the President under the 1973 Constitution. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that “To dissipate all doubts as to the legality of such lawmaking authority by the President during the period of Martial Law, Section 3(2) of Article XVII of the New Constitution expressly affirms that all the proclamations, orders, decrees, instructions and acts he promulgated, issued or did prior to the approval by the Constitutional Convention on November 30, 1972 and prior to the ratification by the people on January 17, 1973 of the new Constitution, are “part of the law of the land, and shall remain valid, legal, binding and effective even after the lifting of Martial Law or the ratification of this Constitution, unless modified, revoked or superseded by subsequent proclamations, orders, decrees, instructions or other acts of the incumbent President, or unless expressly and specifically modified or repealed by the regular National Assembly.”

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According to the Supreme Court, the entire paragraph of Section 3(2) is not a grant of authority to legislate, but a recognition of such power as already existing in favor of the incumbent President during the period of Martial Law.

It is clearly evident in the three martial law cases, Mr. Marcos’ martial regime was maintained with judicial fiat because of the lack of safeguards by the 1935 Constitution that gave the President sole powers in times of war and national emergency. A reading of the 1935 constitution vis-a-vis the 1987 constitution shows the steps already taken to prevent another martial law from happening.

The New Constitution of 1987 seeks to correct these legal loopholes in particularly safeguarding the restored freedoms under the People Power Government of Mrs. Corazon Aquino. Article 18, Section 7 of the 1987 Constitution highlights the many different innovations made by the Constitutional Commission. These safeguards include the judicial participation in the proclamation of martial law, as well as the required reports to Congress. These are just some of the new safeguards and securities instituted.

The 1987 constitution, with the safeguards in place, has been regarded as an “anti-Martial Law Constitution” that ensures that the abuses experienced before will never be repeated. Only time will tell, however, if the safeguards put in place will continue to protect us from the injustices the Filipino people have suffered through. Nevertheless, the Filipino People can rest easy, knowing that even if the safeguards of the 1987 constitution fails, the power of the people will always be there.

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