Rejecting dictatorial powers

Credit should be given where it is due. President Noynoy Aquino should be commended for rejecting the option of exercising dictatorial powers. At a time when his popularity has gone on a free fall, courtesy partly of the bad mouths in charge of his communications, the President still rejected suggestions for him to be a dictator by imposing Martial Law in Tacloban. Lesser mortals would have taken advantage of the situation.

There is no doubt that the humanitarian crisis resulting from the strongest typhoon ever has caused complete breakdown of law and order in Tacloban. Media have reported rampant lootings and the perpetration of other crimes, including murder, in the city most ravaged by Yolanda. While a despot would welcome any opportunity to infringe on civil liberties, I am happy that PNoy rejected the temptation to exercise powers of a dictator.

Under our Constitution, the President has three extraordinary powers as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which powers are hierarchically provided and exercised accordingly. First, he has power to call upon the “armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion”, the power to declare a national emergency. In cases 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. Further, Congress may declare a state of emergency.

PNoy was correct that while there is a breakdown of peace and order in Leyte, the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or the declaration of martial law should be exercised with caution. This is because freedoms are protected by the Bill of rights and any derogation hence from the duty to protect and promote them should be construed strictly.

Moreover, the correct response to the crisis, in addition to his calling out power, is the declaration of a state of calamity. Legally, such a declaration would authorize local governments to spend their calamity funds even without local ordinances. While I am not certain about the legal effect of what was actually declared, that of a “state of national calamity”, I suppose that such a declaration was a fusion of the calling out power and authority for local governments involved in the ravaged areas to spend their calamity funds.

Of course, the perpetrators of the unconstitutional Disbursement Program will, like Napoles and PGMA, capitalize on the Yolanda disaster to justify the DAP anew. But what we do know is: one, there’s still funds left in the appropriation for calamity funds; and two, if the funds are insufficient, the remedy would be to pass a special appropriation to address the crisis. Of course, the use of savings, provided it complies with Demetria vs. Alba, that is, it comes from savings in the executive to be used in connection with an existing line item, is still an option. The controversy over DAP is not whether the President can do this, but whether the use of savings to add further programs which are not provided in the budget law and /or whether the President can use savings from the executive and disburse them to another branch of government such as the Senate. This was of course what Senator Jinggoy Estrada revealed: that each Senator who voted to remove former Chief Justice Corona was given P100 million each from savings of the executive.

PNoy, for all his other shortcomings, should be commended. Recall that his predecessor, the “evil one”, exercised the calling out power thrice and declared martial law twice, albeit the first one, declared to be unconstitutional in David vs. Arroyo, was undeclared . It is no small feat hence for a President to resist the temptation to trample upon civil liberties. Certainly, the Marcos dictatorship was proof of this. All freedom-loving Filipinos should hence commend PNoy for rising up to the challenge and rejecting the allure and temptation of dictatorial powers.

(Published in the Manila Standard Today on November 14, 2013)


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