Mr. Duterte seized, in haste, the recent clash in Marawi City, a small city (pop.: 201, 785) in Mindanao, as pretext for martial law declaration. Like the proverbial sword of Damocless that Duterte has been dangling over the head of the Filipino people even before his inauguration, martial law is back after 31 years.
Duterte did not even bother to consult the military forces on the ground in Marawi, nor conduct a thorough study of the total security situation in Mindanao, prior to his declaration. In the subsequent press conference held in the afternoon of his arrival from Russia, Duterte could not present a comprehensive basis for the declaration. He could not even remember the serial number of his declaration and could not outline the whole content of the declaration. He nonchalantly claimed that the declaration he signed, that could reverse whatever gains in democracy achieved in the country since Marcos’ dictatorial rule, was left somewhere in a hotel room in Moscow!
Yet true to his violent record, he warned directly that the military regime he has just proclaimed will not be different from that imposed by his idol Marcos in 1972, and would be harsh, if not harsher, than Marcos’ dictatorial, tyrannical rule.
Marcos’ martial law regime saw more than 78,000 victims of summary executions, forced disappearances, torture and arbitrary arrests and incarcerations; the suppression of democratic rights and civil liberties, and the displacement of millions of families from their homes and livelihood. It disenfranchised politically and economically Marcos’ political opponents. It made possible the formulation and operation of a Marcosian Constitution, and reduced the Supreme Court and what would later be called Interim Batasan Pambansa to rubberstamp institutions. It took the People Power Revolution to end Marcos’ tyrannical rule.
The martial law declaration does not surprise those who followed closely the political situation in the country since Duterte’s election. Mr. Duterte since elected, in several occasions, threatened Congress, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, his critics and the whole nation with the declaration of martial law. The threat of martial law, seems to be his instinctive reaction, especially when confronted with the limits of his powers, when criticisms on his conduct in office are raised or when he is made to account for his abuses.
Martial law is consistent with Mr. Duterte’s disdain for accountability, criticism and dissent; it is consistent with his desire for unfettered exercise of power. Mr. Duterte knows that military rule, which martial law essentially is, will put him, as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, above the laws of the land. Contrary to the rule of law, which operates on the basis of laws formulated by an elected Congress in accordance with the Constitution, military rule operates on the basis of the command of its commander-in-chief. Military rule once installed, with the security and law enforcement forces at his command, Duterte will be the sole ruler, a dictator. While the legislative and judiciary branches may be allowed to remain, they will be powerless in enforcing whatever contrary decisions they may make. This was crystal clear to Duterte when the threatened to close Congress and the Supreme Court with a declaration of martial law. Duterte’s obsession for absolute power is manifest in his effort, to effect the removal of constitutional restrictions on his power to declare martial law.
Mr. Duterte is calibrating his moves towards absolute power by declaring martial law initially for only 60 days to cover, Mindanao including the islands of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawI and revealing piece-meal the whole range of changes in democratic guarantees and processes the declaration entails. What is revealed so far is already disastrous to democracy. In the areas declared under military rule, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, allowed warrantless arrest and searches, called for the activation of checkpoints, and restrictions on freedom of movement. For nearly a day, his daughter Sara, mayor of Davao City, declared a lockdown - restriction in movement, prohibiting ingress and egress - in Davao City. What is yet in store can be chilling. Yet, Mr. Duterte minced no words in declaring that he may extend martial law in Mindanao for another 60 days, and beyond, even up to the end of his term, and may, if he deems necessary, even put the rest of the country under martial law. Even now, he is also contemplating suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in Visayas.
The incident in Marawi is unfortunate, and the victims deserve justice. The government is duty-bound to use the security forces (numbering no less than 220,000 in the armed force and 160,000 police forces) to stop these small bands of no more than an estimated total of 500 armed terrorist elements from inflicting harm on the people. But this should not, and need not, be done at the expense of democracy – of democratic rights and civil liberties and whatever semblance there is of democratic processes.
The country has seen far worse security situations since 1986, especially when the NPA, the MILF, and MNLF were simultaneously waging armed insurgency; Abu Sayyaf and BIFF elements were conducting terrorist attacks (from kidnapping to bombings) over a wider area of the country; and coup threats abound. Yet these did not necessitate the declaration of martial law. Only Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Duterte’s ally who similarly displayed a propensity for exercise of special powers, declared martial law – in Maguindanao for one month but reduced to 8 days on the urging of her cabinet. That was a response to the Ampatuan massacre in which the governor and congressman in the province (the Ampatuans) themselves were involved.
Undoubtedly, the Duterte regime will dish out in the next few days a barrage of his own “intelligence reports” (as he did in his war on drugs) to “justify” his move towards dictatorial rule.
The conflicting presentation of the security problem in Marawi City and the rest of Mindanao, between Duterte and the Armed Forces, reflects a divergence of interests: while Duterte overstates and magnifies the security problem in an effort to justify even expanded military rule, the AFP, knowing its overwhelming superiority in strength and armaments, and experience in dealing with insurgent groups, insists that it is in control of the situation, even sans martial law. Even the terrorists in Marawi know that they are grossly out-numbered and out-armed; thus their demand for a “ceasefire” and safe passage in exchange for release of hostages. .
Duterte’s drive towards dictatorial, tyrannical rule must be stopped. Never again must the people bear the sufferings that tyranny spells. And only the people’s concerted action can stop it. Duterte’s majority in Congress cannot be relied upon to defend the people’s rights. So far, they have allowed themselves to be herded to toe Duterte’s line. The people have to pressure them, and directly denounce and oppose them, if they do not heed whom they should be representing.
Everyone who values freedom and democracy is now called upon to stand and be counted in the struggle to resist this renewed attempt to establish dictatorial, tyrannical rule. Never again to Martial Law.
People’s Campaign Against Tyranny (PCAT)