Dispatch from Crame No. 123: (Sen. Leila M. de Lima on the SC decision in joint session case)

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Almost a unanimous Supreme Court has ruled that Sec. 18, Art. VII of the Constitution does not require Congress to convene within 24 hours following a declaration of martial law.

Despite the fact that much confidence is placed in the wisdom of 15 high magistrates, still, one cannot help but wonder how a plain command written in clear and categorical language in the Constitution can hold such an opposite meaning among the learned justices. I am still waiting to be enlightened once the full text of the decision is finally released by the Court.

The Constitution provides that within 24 hours from the declaration of martial law, Congress must convene if it is not in session. If it is in session, it must immediately proceed to deliberate on the President’s declaration of martial law.

In its decision, the Supreme Court says that this is not so. This is not a command. Congress can choose not to convene to deliberate on the martial law.

An immediate reaction to this interpretation is that it greatly diminishes the anti-dictatorship and anti-martial law orientation of a Constitution crafted from the ruins of the Marcos Dictatorship. Section 18 providing for the convening of Congress after a martial law declaration is intended as one of the safeguards against any arbitrary declaration of martial law. It does not appear to be an option. It is a mandate upon Congress in the fulfillment of its role to protect constitutional democracy.

Given the plain meaning of the Constitution which should override any obscure ConCom deliberations to the contrary, we cannot but speculate on other reasons on why the Court interpreted the Constitution in this manner. Maybe the bullying of our democratic institutions by the Duterte Regime, as exemplified by the threats of the President himself and the Speaker of the House on the judiciary, is just too much for these institutions to bear.

With Congress, and now the Supreme Court, having failed their mandates as the defenders of our democracy and champions of the Constitution, the people are left with no alternative but to rely on their own sovereign power to continue the fight for their freedoms and a democratic society.

Without any of our democratic institutions left standing to confront this mean and despotic regime, it appears that this fight is bound to be a long fight. Democracy and the people will still prevail in the end. But it seems this will take some time, and the steadfast commitment of all freedom-loving Filipinos.

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