Martial Law 2017: Godsend or Nuisance?


Martial Law has had a resting place in the dark underbelly of Philippine history but in a shivering turn of events three weeks ago, martial law has crept out from its temporary grave and reminded everyone that there may be truth in history repeating itself.

A threat of terrorism has ushered martial law into the province of Mindanao. On May 23, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) began their hunt for the terrorist, Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the ISIS-backed, Maute group.   The rebel group retaliated and sparked fights across the city of Marawi, in Mindanao. Citizens were further alarmed when the terrorist group hoisted a black flag bearing the logo of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The Maute group continues to terrorize and the death toll has surpassed one hundred. Public establishments such as hospitals and markets were taken over by the rebels.   Bodies have been found dismembered and strewn across fields.  A Catholic church was burned to the ground but not before the religious icons inside were purposely desecrated.

The shocking news on May 23 continued to inundate our televisions and minutes before I was heading off to bed, President Rodrigo Duterte announced he was enacting Martial Law across Mindanao for 60 days. I closed my eyes and prayed, not only for the Mindanawons, but also for the entire nation as past memories of martial law flooded my head.

The Resurgence

The order for Martial Law came straight from Russia where President Duterte was meeting with Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin.  Initially, it was believed that the terrorists were ISIS members, and this startled Filipinos, especially in the wake of ISIS terrorism in other parts of the world. The Marawi clash coincided with the bombing in Manchester, England masterminded by an ISIS jihadist.

After clarification, a press briefing announced that the Maute group was in fact only ISIS sympathizers and not members. Nonetheless, effective 10 p.m. that day, after the encounter was confirmed by military higher-ups, the president announced his decision through a press briefing. When the president was back on Philippine soil, he confirmed the order for martial law and that it would not be abused.  At this point, countless civilians and officials protested the decision, more so when Duterte announced that he might extend the order if the local terrorists could not be controlled.

The Constitution

According to the highest law of the land, the president may declare martial law during threats of rebellion and invasion “when public safety requires it.” Another option for the commander-in-chief is to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, which was also ruled by the chief executive the same day.

The constitution also highlights that the order should not exceed 60 days  but can be extended depending on its need.  By law, this is possible as the Congress can jointly  vote upon the decision of the president to prevent abuse of power.

Further, other branches of the government must remain functional and individual than that of the president’s order. Martial law, when enacted, cannot override the discretion of judiciary and legislative branches.

The chief executive is obliged to submit a report to the Congress within 48 hours. Supreme Court, meanwhile, is assigned to review the decision of the two branches and check the veracity of facts.

The Controversy

Duterte’s order shocked human right advocates who, from a history perspective, believe that martial law promotes abuse. Admittedly, the president said during an earlier press briefing that the current martial rule will not be any different than that of Marcos’. “Martial law is martial law. It will not be any different from what the president, [Ferdinand] Marcos did. I’d be harsh,” he said.

Implemented to protect the people, martial law hands over extra power to the military to exert specific protocols (i.e. supervising civilian movements, searches and detainments) but this does not automatically mean that civilian rights are suspended. However, as military power supercedes civilians in partially controlling their freedom, abuse of power is not unheard of.

Manslaughter is a Duterte trademark and as such, is inevitable in the besieged city of Marawi.  The president’s sexist tendencies arose once again and ignited another issue amid the clash. At one point, he quipped that he would take accountability for all military member actions, even if they rape a woman.

“Just do your job,” he said.  “Everything is on me. I’ll let myself be detained for you. If you happen to rape three, I’ll be accountable for it. If you marry four, they will beat you.”

As much as martial law earned ire from individuals inside and out of the country, the president’s rape joke tolled just the same. Daughter of former United States President Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, even reacted to Duterte’s remark saying “Not funny. Ever.”

Staunch critic of the Philippine strongman, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, said during a television interview that Duterte’s martial law is a win for the rebels. The senator explained that by giving out the order, it indicates that Maute group’s plan of insurgency is working fully well as it disturbs the normalcy in the Philippines. He added that because of the martial rule, Philippine economy might be compromised —particularly tourism which generates huge income for the residents of the southern islands.

The Optimistics

Needless to say, there are individuals who find the president’s declaration as reasonable. Unlike in the 70s which garnered public outcry, the majority of the Mindanawons favor Duterte’s martial rule. Even the bishops of Mindanao approve of the president’s decision.

Government officials’ opinion regarding the decision varied, but as far as the Congress is concerned, it upheld its support to the president by giving the ruling a super majority. Likewise, several local officials gave support to the president like, Angeles city mayor, Edgar do Pamintuan. As per the mayor, martial law serves the best interest of the country and it is required to restore peace in the southern islands.

Further, contrary to the predictions stated earlier, a few believe that the president’s decision will do well for the economy. Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said that martial law may bear positive outcomes for the country.

“The president promised a better, safer, fairer, richer and more beautiful Philippines. He believes peace and order is a precondition to growth,” Diokno told The Philippine Star. “If, by declaring martial law in Mindanao, he improves the likelihood that peace in Mindanao would be achieved, then it is a positive move.”

History Repeating Itself?

In spite of the support that President Duterte receives from the public, political and religious spheres, citizens are still wary of another 1972 martial law rerun under the fist of another strongman.

The Congress may have given a majority of ayes to push through martial law, but that doesn’t mean that they are not wary of possible recourses. After all, the revised Constitution of 1987 safeguards the country from its dark past happening again, so why should they worry?

In 2009, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared a localized martial law in Maguindanao during the Ampatuan massacre— the single-most gruesome murders in Filipino history where 58 people were killed. As for national martial law, there has not been a repeat but Mindanao – like Maguindanao – is localized and Duterte has considered extending the martial law throughout the Philippines so the possibility of history repeating itself, exists.

Filipinos should not be complacent and put their complete trust in their president. In days like this, we must keep our senses alive and alert, like a watch guard in a tower. If we don’t we risk history repeating itself but this time, led by another man with a whole new agenda.

Written by Mikaela Sarthou

Mikaela Sarthou is a journalism degree holder from a university in Espana, Manila. She is a betrothed woman to an American citizen but believes in no other dream but the “Philippine dream,” because it’s where her family is. This twenty-something mom also adores the word boundless and hopes to be boundless someday.


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