Philippine Military Justice

Author:Major Valentin E. Escutin


This article gives a brief account of the court-martial system as it exists today in the Philippines and draws a comparison between the .4merican and Philippine systems. The discussion of Philippine military law, although limited in scope, is comprehensive enough to provide the reader with B working knowledge af Philippine military jurisprudence. Considerable emphasis has been placed on mud-martial procedure and allied subjects of major importance.

In a comparison of the two court-martial systems, it should be noted that the Philippine system was patterned after the American. Notwithstanding this American origin, the Philippine proce-dure differs in Some respects. It is these differences that will be studied.

11. SOURCES OF PHILIPPINE MILITARY LAWThe Philippines had a system of administering military justice as early as 1896 nhen the then Philippine Revolutionary Army established a couii-martial system to enforce discipline. The Philippine Revolutionary Army court-martial was of Spanish origin.' During the American regime, the Chief of Constabulary was empowered by law to punish summarily members of the organization for inefficiency, misconduct or disloyalty.* He was also authorized to designate a summary court officer in each Constabulary post or c~mmand.~

Upon the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth, the National Assembly of the Philippines enacted Commonwealth Act No. 408 (approved on September 14, 1938) consisting of 120 articles. Essentially of American origin, the Phzlippine Arti-cles of War' are the counterpart of the American Articles of War.

*The opinions and condusions presented herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Judge Adroeate General'sSchool OT any other governmental agency.

**JAGS: Chief. Legal Services Branch, JAGO, GHQ AFP; I.L.B., 1838, Kniversity of Santo Tomas; member of the Philippine Bar.



MILITARY LAW 4 (185s).*Revmd Administrative Code of the Philippines 08 648, 856 (1917).2 Revmd Administrative Code of the Philippines 0 855 (1917) i Philippine Constabulary Manual. para. 282 (1930).

'Hereinafter cited ai AW, PA; see GLORIA. op. cit. supra note 1, at 8.

Commonwealth Act So. 408 was subsequently implemented by Executive Order So. 178 of December 17, 1938, and later amended by Republic Acts 242 and 616. The implementing executive order prescribes the rules of procedure, including modes of prmf in cases before courts-martial. courts of inquiry, military commissionãnd other tribunals. These rules are designated as the Manun1 io7 CozLrts-Mnrtinl, Philippine Amy.6 As implemented and amended, Commonvealth Act No. 4G8 is still the organic law of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.


Minor offenses or infractions invariably demand some kind af disciplinary action short of court-martial. For the prompt and efficient disposition of such offenses, commanding officers are authorized to impose limited forms of disciplinary punishment upon members of their command without the intervention af a court-martial. The forms of authorized disciplinary punishment are limited and the procedure for imposing them clearly prescribd6

The commanding officer fully investigates the facts before he takes action. There 1s no particular form of investigation. He usuaily has to inten-leiIf the commanding officer finds that an offense W.BS committed and disciplinary action is appropriate, he will call the accused, state briefly and clearly the nature of the offense, and inform him that he proposes to impose disciplinary punishment unless trial by court-martial 1s demanded. The aceused must be given an opportunity to demand trial before punishment is imposed. Other-%%e, a subsequent order of punishment is illegal. If he demands trial, disciplinary action cannot be taken.

The accused is not entltled to be informed of the punishment to be imwsed. The commanding officer determines the appropriate pumshment for the offense and informs the accused of the punishment, if no demand for trial is made. At the same time the aceused is notified of his right to appeal to the "next superior authority" if he believes the punishment to be unjust. The appeal has to be in writing and signed, with a statement of reasons

5 Hereinafter cited as MCM, PA;see MCM, PA,

p. vii.

8 See AW 105, PA.

*(10 mom

PHILIPPINE MILITARY JUSTICE why the punishment is considered unjust or excessi~e.~


superior authority may modify or set aside the punishment but he may not increase it or impose a different kind of punishment.

Acceptance of a punishment without protest is deemed a waiver of the right to demand trial.B Furthermore, failure of the accused to demand trial may preclude him from denying his guilt upon appeal.' The appeai is limited to cases where the punishment is deemed unjust or disproportionate to the offense. Any punishment adjudged for purely minor offenses is a bar to trial by court-martial for such offenses. However, if it should develop that serious offenses have in fact been committed, the accused could legally be brought to trial by court-martial notwithstanding prior disciplinary action.ln

Disciplinary punishments are not previous convictions by court-martial. Nevertheless, they may be shown in mitigation when imposed for an offense connected with an offense for which the accused is on trial."

Among the authorized farms of disciplinary punishments are admonition or reprimand. In addition, the withholding of privi-leges, extra fatigue, restrictions to certain specified limits, or hard labor without confinement may be imposed. Hovetwr, any one punishment, or any combination, may not exceed one week.

The officer exercising general court-martial jurisdiction may impose upon an officer of his command below the grade of brigadier general B forfeiture of not more than one-half of such officer's monthly pay for three months. In the Philippine Navy, a commander of a commissioned vessel may also impose a punishment on n commissioned officer, suspension from duty, arrest or confinement not to exceed ten days.'*


A. TYPES OF COCRTS-MARTIALThere are three kinds of courts-martial: General, Special, and Summary.13 The membership of these courts varies from a minimum of one member for a summary court-martial, three for


11-12 (1945) [herejnsfter plied ad TM 27-2661, 8 AW 105, PA.

S See Ibid.10 See Dig. OPS. JAG 1912-1940 I4S2(2) at 369 (31 January 1930).

II See SPJCJ 1943/7419, 24 Miy 1943, =.(digested ~n 2 BULL. JAG, USA

1Z AW 105. PA.

SAW 3. PA.

PROCEDU~,pars. ISa,


A00 88088 99

a special court-martial, to five for a general All officers an active duty in the Armed Forces of the Philippines may serve on courts-martial. Enlisted men may likewise serve on the court of enlisted persons or trainees when requested in writing by the accused. However, an officer or enlisted man cannot sit as a member of B general or speaal court-martial when he is the accuser or a witness for the prosecution.

Militam personnel with less than t m years' service may not

be appointed as members of courts-martial.15 This service requirement for membership in courts-martial 1s one of the differences between the Philippine and American systems. The need for the requirement in the Philippine system is dictated by a demand for personnel Who, by reason of training and experience, are best qualified to sit as members of the court. It i8 felt that such qualification can be attamed after t w years in the ser~1ce.'~

B. COCRT-MAKTIIL APPOIXTIXG AETHORITIES General courts-martial are appointed by the President of the Philippines, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Chief of Constabulary. Special courts-martial are appointed by the commanding officer of a major command or task force, military area, or division. Such commander may likewise appoint a general court-martial when empowered by the President. Any authority who can appoint a general court-martial can also appoint a special court-martial. If the commander is the accuser or the prosecutor, the court may be appointed by superior competent authority.

The appointing authority details, as the lair member of B general court-martial, an officer of the Judge Advocate General's Service or any ather officer who is a member of the Philippine bar and duly certified by the Judge .4dvocate General. In the absence of the 1a.w member, the court cannot receive evidence

14 A R 5-7, PA. 15 AIY 4, PA.

16 Because of the recent decision of the U.S. Court of Military Appeals in United States +. Crawford, 15 U S.C.M.A. 31, 35 CM.R. 3 (1964). this difference between the two systems as to enlisted men may not exist in practice any longer. Since the eout held ~n Cmwiwd that t was not improper to h i t enlisted personnel on courts-martial to the higher enlisted grades, the eonvening authority has considerable freedom in selecting court members with several years of milica~y

SD~VLCD, BQ was done in Crawfwd. The diference that now exists in fact 18 that under the Philippine Articles of War, the e~nvenln~authorits must plck personnel with two yead experience, under the American practice he is permdted, but not eompeiled, to plek exp$iend enlisted men.

PHILIPPIXE MILITARY JUSTICE or vote upon a flnding or sentence." The law member is the counterpart of the law officer in the American system. But unlike the latter, he sits and votes as a member of the court.

The commanding officer of B garrison, fort, camp, brigade, regiment, detached battalion or squadron or other detached command cannot appoint a special court-martial unless empowered by the President. This is another distinauishing feature of the Philippine system. However, to enhance the speedy administration of justice, there is B move to grant subordinate commanders statutory authority to appaint special courts-martial.

Summary courts-martial are appointed...

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