MANILA - The Philippine Supreme Court backed today (July 4) President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law over the war-torn southern island of Mindanao, as clashes between government troops and Muslim militants in besieged Marawi city dragged on for a seventh week.
Voting 14-1 on an 83-page decision penned by Justice Mariano del Castillo, the high court rejected three petitions questioning the government’s case that there is an ongoing rebellion in Mindanao by ultra-radicals allied with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Three of the justices, however, believed martial rule did not have to cover all of Mindanao.
In their petitions, a group of lawmakers insisted there was no evidence of an “invasion” or a “rebellion” to support martial law.
The decision, and the justices’ opinions, will not be released till Wednesday (July 5).
But the Manila Times reported on Monday (July 3) that the high court agreed that Mr Duterte had vital intelligence and classified information to back his decision to impose martial rule across Mindanao.
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The petitioners, however, used “unverified news articles” that cannot stand as evidence, the court ruled. Also, the Supreme Court believes the 1987 Constitution has enough safeguards against possible martial law abuses.
Mr Duterte declared martial law hours after about 500 Muslim militants stormed Marawi on May 23. The military has wrestled control of much of the city, but the rebels have managed to hold on to a small zone within the bombed-out commercial district.
The fighting has claimed more than 460 lives and displaced nearly 400,000 people. In declaring martial law, Mr Duterte said: “I will not allow the country to go to the dogs.” He said martial rule “would not be any different from what President Marcos did. I’d be harsh”.
Mr Duterte was referring to the two-decade rule of Ferdinand Marcos, marked by widespread human rights violations and massive corruption, which ended with a “People Power” revolution in 1986.
While security forces have arrested dozens of suspected terrorists, imposed curfew in some cities and provinces, and put up thousands of checkpoints, life has been routine across much of Mindanao under martial rule.
In a short video message late on Monday (July 3) evening, Mr Duterte said martial law is still needed to curb the spread of Islamist militancy across the Philippines.
Solicitor-General Jose Calida said the Supreme Court “did not sit idly to watch our country get dismembered”.
Mr Duterte’s spokesman, Mr Ernesto Abella, meanwhile, said the court’s ruling shows “the whole government now stands as one against a common enemy”.
But National Union of People’s Lawyers spokesman Cristina Yambot said the decision was “disappointing”. “We were able to prove the arbitrariness of the declaration,” she said.
Representative Arlene Brosas, among those who contested the martial law declaration, said the decision “sets the ground for arbitrary declaration of a nationwide martial law”.