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Habeas Corpus Petition of Benigno S. Aquino, Jr., et al v. Sec. Juan Ponce Enrile, Gen. Espino, Chief of Staff, and Fidel V. Ramos, Chief of the Philippine Constabulary (59 SCRA 183 [September 17, 1974])

Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Proclamation No. 1081 declaring Martial Law on 21 September 1972, and through subsequent presidential issuances, arrested and detained those suspected of being communists.  Among those detained indefinitely were Sen. Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. who filed a petition raising the following key issues: the Supreme Court’s power of judicial inquiry; the validity of Proclamation No. 1081, the martial law proclamation; and the effect of Proclamation No. 1081 on the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.  Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J. wrote that the Court merely summarized the voting on the issues and did not come out with a decision in the true sense, as they were conscious of the “future verdict of history.” (2 J. Bernas, The Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines 222 [1988]). On martial law, Justice Muñoz Palma wrote:

Is the Court with jurisdiction to inquire into the constitutional sufficiency of the proclamation of martial law?

Petitioners assert the authority of this Court to inquire into the necessity of placing the country under martial law in the same manner that it inquired into the constitutional sufficiency of the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Lansang v. Garcia.

We are now called upon by respondents to re-examine the above-quoted ruling, abandon it, and return to the principle laid down in Baker and Montenegro.  To do that, however, would be to retrogress, to surrender a momentous gain achieved in judicial history in this country.  With Lansang, the highest Court of the land takes upon itself the grave responsibility of checking executive action and saving the nation from an arbitrary and despotic exercise of the presidential power granted under the Constitution to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and/or proclaim martial law; that responsibility and duty of the Court must be preserved and fulfilled at all costs if We want to maintain its role as the last bulwark of democracy in this country.

Contrary to respondent’s claim, the proclamation of martial law in the country did not carry with it the automatic suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus for these reasons:  First, from the very nature of the writ of habeas corpus which as stressed in the early portion of this Opinion is a “writ of liberty” and the most important and most immediately available safeguard of that liberty, the privilege of the writ cannot be suspended by mere implication.

Respondents argue that with a valid proclamation of martial law, all orders, decrees and other acts of the President pursuant to said proclamation are likewise valid; that these acts were expressly declared legal and binding in Art. XVII, Sec. 3 (2) of the 1973 Constitution which is now in full force and effect, and consequently, the arrest of petitioners is legal, it having been made in accordance with General Order No. 2 of the President.

I cannot give my unqualified assent to the respondents’ sweeping statement which in effect upholds the view that whatever defects, substantive or procedural, may have tainted the orders, decrees, or other acts of the President, have been cured by the confirmatory vote of the sovereign people manifested through the ratification of the 1973 Constitution.  I cannot do so, because I refuse to believe that a people that have embraced the principles of democracy in “blood, sweat, and tears” would thus throw away all their precious liberties, the sacred institutions enshrined in their Constitution, for that would be the result if we say that the people have stamped their approval on all the acts of the President executed after the proclamation of martial law irrespective of any taint of injustice, arbitrariness, oppression, or culpable violation of the Constitution that may characterize  such acts.

To recapitulate: (1) Is the constitutional sufficiency of a proclamation of martial law by the President a political question? – I hold that it is not a political, but it is a justiciable one.  (2) Did the proclamation of martial law automatically suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus? – No, is my answer.  (3) Did Sec. 3 (2), Art. XVII of the Transitory Provisions of the 1973 Constitution foreclose judicial inquiry into the validity of all decrees, orders, and acts of the incumbent President executed after the proclamation of martial law and during the Transitory Period?  I say: NO, because these acts are still subject to be arbitrary, oppressive, or unjust, in violation of the Constitution and/or the generally accepted principles of International Law.

Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. v. Commission on Elections, (62 SCRA 275 [January 31, 1975])

Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. v. Military Commission No. 2, Chief of Staff, et al (63 SCRA 546 [May 9, 1975])

Pablo Sanidad, et al v. Commission on Elections, et al and other petitions (73 SCRA 333 [October 12, 1976])