Rodrigo Duterte wants to remove the safeguards meant to prevent another dictator like Ferdinand Marcos

Image: AP Photo/Aaron Favila
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Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte wants to amend the process to declare martial law, further emboldening the strongman amid his controversial war on drugs that has killed more than 6,000 people.

In a speech addressed to female volunteers on Dec. 22, Duterte criticized the process required for the president to declare martial law, which requires approval from other branches of government.“What if there is already a war?” he said. “Should I still go to Congress, to [the Supreme Court]? What if the Congress and the SC have differing opinions? Who should the police follow?”

The remarks come after a number of contradictory statements from Duterte about martial law. In August, he threatened to declare martial law after the chief justice questioned him for not following proper trial procedures in his war on drugs. His communications secretary immediately retracted the statement. Earlier this month, the president, however, said it “would be stupid” of him to declare martial law.

Duterte plans to include the amended provision in a charter change proposal that would shift the Philippines to a federal government from a unitary presidential constitutional republic. He said giving the sole power to declare martial law back to the president would not be absolute and would include safeguards, but he did not elaborate on those limitations.

After the 1986 People Power Revolution that overthrew dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippine constitution was amended to limit the president’s power in making this decision. Currently, if Duterte were to declare martial law, he would first have to propose it to Congress and get a majority of the votes from members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. If approved, the country can only be under military rule for 60 days, after which Congress will vote again on whether or not to extend it. 

These safeguards were added to avoid a repeat of the Marcos regime, a time of massive corruption and human rights violations that remains painful for many Filipinos today. Despite his authoritarian rule, Duterte has assured the public he would never want to be a dictator like Marcos, noting his own mother led an anti-Marcos movement in Davao. But recent events have shown his relationship with the Marcos family has become much more amicable. Duterte recently approved a hero’s burial for Marcos, a much contested decision that led to protests across the country. He also supported Bongbong Marcos in his bid for the vice presidency, even though they weren’t running mates.