Duterte mulls suspending writ of habeas corpus
President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday he may suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus as a remedy against illegal drugs and lawlessness in Mindanao.
A writ of habeas corpus, a safeguard against warrantless arrest, is an order from a court to a person or institution holding someone in custody to deliver an imprisoned person to the court issuing the order.
Duterte raised the possibility when he spoke about the current drug problem in the country, with suspected drug users and pushers already reaching to about 4 million.
"If you force my hand into it, I will declare the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, not martial law," Duterte said in his speech at the launch of the Pilipinong May Puno Foundation in Davao City.
The writ suspension will also be used to address rebellion in Mindanao. He mentioned the Maute Group as one of the armed groups sowing lawlessness in the region.
"This is just my warning to them. I don't want it because it's not good," Duterte said.
Duterte's drug war has resulted in intensified police operations where 1,825 suspected drug pushers and users have been killed since July this year. The figure does not include the 3,001 victims of murder and homicide cases which happened in his term.
Of the 4 million people which are either involved or affected by drugs, Duterte said 6,000 belong to the police force. "There are about four thousand municipal mayors into drugs. A few city mayors and about one or two congressmen and another four governors... How do we solve the problem?"
Under the 1987 Constitution, the President can order the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in cases of invasion and rebellion and if public safety is in jeopardy.
"If you don’t give me a choice then you box me in a corner and I find myself helpless, that's why it's there. Those are really provisions intended to protect the Republic of the Philippines," he said.
Even the Supreme Court could not not prevent him from suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, he said.
"I can be ordered by the Supreme Court to stop it but there are things that they cannot, and maybe, I will not, stop. Come what may, I'll tell them I have to finish this first then I can go to jail. File all the charges that you can think of. But this country, in my time, will not deteriorate any further," he added.
While the government has been successful in a sense that all those involved in the drug trade have been identified, Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the persisting issue is how to stop the problem.
"We were making headway, but in the sense, we haven't stopped it together. Now there have been intelligence reports that drug money is being used to fund or finance the rebellion in Mindanao as well as the terrorism by the Abu Sayyaf," Panelo said in an interview over ANC.
Panelo cited the government's limitations where search warrants have to be secured or cases must be filed against people involved in drugs to hold them accountable.
"It will take you eternity. When you suspend the writ of habeas corpus, you don't have to be restrained or chained by the judicial proceedings," he said.
The Palace on Sunday doused fears that Duterte will go ahead with the writ suspension.
"The suspension of writ of habeas corpus is an idea that was floated," Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in an interview over dzRB radio.
Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo's office declined to comment as of Sunday. One of her media relations officers said the issue is not yet "clear".
Duterte's critic, Senator Leila De Lima, warned that suspending the writ as a means to address the drug problem will just lead to more bloodshed.
"President Duterte should stop toying with the idea of suspending the writ of habeas corpus in his desperate attempt to legitimize his administration’s flawed war against illegal drugs," she said in a statement. "To concede to this temptation would result to more innocent blood gushing, human dignity desecrated, and the basic human rights being blatantly violated."
"The President should review what his administration has so far achieved when it placed the entire country under state of lawless violence against illegal drugs and terrorism for more than two months now." Emmanuel Tupas/DMS