Philippines: Martial law must not be used to undermine human rights

The Philippine government must ensure that human rights are protected and respected in Mindanao, in light of the yesterday’s declaration of martial law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the ICJ said today.

The ICJ reminds the Philippine government that it remains responsible for upholding its international human rights legal obligations, notwithstanding the imposition of martial law.

The ICJ also calls upon the Congress and, if engaged, the Supreme Court, to exercise their oversight authority to ensure that the declaration is necessary and lawful, and that the activities conducted under martial law respect human rights.

“The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, which is vital for protecting the right to liberty and preventing torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance, must be lifted immediately,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

Rawski added, “The provision of the Philippine Constitution providing for the possibility of suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is in contravention of international law, and denying the right to challenge the lawfulness of a detention is incompatible with recognized principles of the rule of law.”

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on the evening of 23 May 2017, covering the island of Mindanao, after Maute, an armed group that had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), reportedly laid siege on Marawi City. The next day, 24 May 2017, President Duterte suspended the writ of habeas corpus.

The ICJ recalls that the right to challenge the lawfulness of one’s detention through habeas corpus or similar procedures must always be available, even under states of exception like martial law.

The ICJ calls on the Philippine government to establish a clear timetable for an end to martial law, and to ensure in the interim that human rights are fully protected.


Under Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the President may declare martial law or suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in case of invasion or rebellion and only “when the public safety requires it.”  However, Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution limits a declaration of martial law to 60 days, and imposes other important limitations – including that the President of the Philippines must submit a report to Congress within 48 hours, which may then revoke the suspension or declaration.

Any citizen may petition the Supreme Court to review the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law, or the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. Finally, this provision of the Constitution also provides that in the case of a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, any arrested or detained person must be judicially charged within three days, or be released.


Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, email: emerlynne.gil(a) tel: +66 840923575.


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