Fourty-four years ago, a President exploited the absence of constitutional safeguards to declare martial law in the Philippines. Given the law of the land at the time . . . this unilateral act was actually legal. As per Article VII, Section 11, sub-par 2:
The President shall be 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, insurrection, or rebellion, or imminent danger thereof, when the public safety requires it, he may suspend the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus, or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.
There was no qualifier for what constituted “imminent danger” or similar conditions. There was no oversight by the other branches of government. The architects of the 1935 constitution clearly did not forsee the rise of Marcos. So on this date, Proclamation 1081 was issued, and the rest is history.
Since the strong man’s overthrow, constitutional safeguards were put in place to ensure oversight and protection of the rights of citizens. The 1987 constitution’s flavor of Martial Law is written as follows:
SECTION 18. 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 sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law. Within forty-eight 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.
Barriers to the imposition of martial rule is not the only legacy of the martial law years. Let us remember them here.