Plugging the loophole

The joint vote provision that allows a simple majority of both houses of Congress to override a presidential declaration of martial law must have been designed to make it easier to prevent a new Marcos. I suppose the idea (proposed, the ever-relevant Edwin Lacierda tells us, by Constitutional Commissioner Joaquin Bernas) was to allow Congress to act even if — either because of invasion or rebellion or "public safety" concerns — a considerable number of lawmakers won’t be able to (or find themselves suddenly unable to) make it to the crucial joint session. Lowering the bar would strengthen the hand of Congress, helping prevent a repeat of 1972.

The provision becomes a loophole only if, in the hands of a master parliamentarian, an acquiescent Congress votes to extend the declaration, by a simple majority of both houses combined.

But all this, I take pains to point out, is all quite theoretical.

I am not convinced that martial law will in fact be declared. It doesn’t make political sense, because of both military and economic factors. Giving a restive military a greater role would be like riding a hungry tiger; the President would find it unmanageable. And certain economic indicators may well flat-line. There is a difference between wanting protesters out of the streets and removing the right to protest in the first place, and it is a difference even big business can tell.

Of course, it is important to remember that, in politics as well as in other aspects of life, reason does not always carry the day. Hubris, or the presidential swagger that Press Secretary Toting Bunye had to explain away in yesterday’s news briefing, can lead to a fatal miscalculation.

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