Repeating history

Duterte with soldiers in Marawi on martial law anniversary
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There was hardly any question about it. The dominance of the Duterte “supermajority” in both houses of Congress made the one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao certain, and even the members of the political opposition in the House of Representatives and the Senate, who nevertheless voted against it, predicted congressional approval of President Rodrigo Duterte’s request.

Mr. Duterte’s Congressional allies had the numbers but apparently neither the welfare, peace of mind, safety or rights of the Mindanaoans and the country in mind, nor the legal justification on their side — or even a sense of history.

They ignored reports of such military and police abuses as the looting and unlawful search of Marawi City houses, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, various forms of harassment, and even the killing of activists, farmers, Lumad leaders and human rights defenders in other areas of Mindanao.

A congressman from Mr. Duterte’s party, who is best unremembered, even described martial law in Mindanao as “martial law with a heart” during a television interview. Other regime sycophants, including military spokespersons, echoed that description by saying that Mr. Duterte’s version is entirely different from Ferdinand E. Marcos’ own. Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald de la Rosa also asked why anyone who’s not guilty of any crime should fear martial law, and suggested that critics of it should ask Mindanaoans what they think.

The members of the Lanao del Sur chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), who certainly qualify as Mindanaoans, had the answer to de la Rosa’s question: they in effect said martial law in Mindanao has spared neither the guilty nor the innocent, and one more year of it will likely lead to more abuses.

They agreed that what precipitated the declaration was Maute violence in Marawi City. But in a statement they released after Congress again extended martial law in Mindanao, they noted the “countless” reports of “missing persons and warrantless searches of Muslim homes in and out of Marawi City.”

“We ask why homes in military-controlled areas were notoriously (sic) looted.” They wondered why, since only the military had access to them, even the “offices and courtrooms were ransacked and destroyed ” in the Hall of Justice, and “stored evidence consisting of guns and drugs went missing.” They declared that “abuses were also perpetrated (on) ordinary citizens.”

All these, they said, make “another year of martial law…intolerable for all of us.” Can the suppression of rebellion and lawless violence, they asked, not be done instead through the exercise of the President’s power under Article VII, Section 18 of the Constitution “to call out the Armed Forces to suppress or prevent violence and rebellion”?

In short, not only are there alternatives to extending martial law in Mindanao, and while Mr. Duterte’s martial law may be different in the details, it is also fundamentally the same as Marcos’ in terms of the abuses it makes even more possible.

In the context of the impunity, abuse of power and lawless governance now rampant in these isles of fear, martial law today, as in 1972-1986, has empowered the already abusive military and police into foregoing such legal niceties as getting warrants of arrest from the courts and filing cases against those they think deserve imprisonment or worse, whom they can instead arbitrarily declare as terrorists or insurgents to justify their unlawful detention or even elimination.

What is inescapable, Philippine history and experience tell us, is that wherever and whenever it is in force, martial law makes abuses against the population worse and even more likely. If even without martial law the gravest abuses including killings have been happening not only in Mindanao but also in the rest of the Philippines, its extension will further encourage the police and military to continue to violate the Constitution and ride roughshod on citizen rights. Even former Marine captain, now Congressman Gary Alejano, was convinced that this is likely to happen.

In contrast to the alleged lawyers in Congress and the rest of the Duterte regime, other lawyers who know their law have also pointed out that there is no Constitutional basis for its extension, since the government has already declared victory in Marawi City and has announced plans for its rehabilitation. And as some opposition senators have pointed out, if martial law is only being extended, why is there the added justification in Mr. Duterte’s request for the “extension” that it is needed to fight the New People’s Army (NPA), which was not in the original declaration? Martial law is also a means of combatting actual, ongoing rebellion or foreign invasion and not their mere possibility, or even imminence.

There is as well the very likely use of it to conceal from the citizenry how the hundreds of billions of pesos for the rehabilitation and rebuilding of Marawi City will be and are being spent. During the one year in which it will be in force, the police and military can prevent anyone, whether journalists, members of non-government organizations, or the political opposition from seeing the progress of Marawi’s rehabilitation for themselves. Martial law opens up vast opportunities for corruption that could otherwise be monitored and exposed.

There is also the distinct possibility that the Duterte regime, encouraged by the ease with which it got what it wished for in Mindanao, will declare martial law nationwide, plunging the country into an acute crisis of open authoritarian rule — and therefore further unrest, conflict, and political instability.

Mr. Duterte has already announced that he’s entertaining that option, and his police minions have chorused that they will support a declaration of martial law nationwide. They claim it will solve the country’s current problems, which they identify as drugs, terrorism and insurgency — all of which are rooted in the poverty, hunger and social injustice to which millions are subject that Mr. Duterte refuses to address. Once he places the entire Philippines under martial law, he shall have opted instead to stop the demand for the reforms that could begin to cure those ills.

Because it is a means of preventing the very changes that candidate Rodrigo Duterte promised during the 2016 presidential campaign, martial law is not a solution to this country’s many afflictions. It isn’t a cure but part of the ills of underdevelopment — the landlessness and the social inequity — that will even aggravate them.

Since 1972, the authoritarian option has been the weapon of choice of the inept, visionless, and treacherous political class in blocking the adoption of the political, economic and social reforms Philippine society so desperately needs.

Committed solely to self-aggrandizement and to keeping its monopoly on power, but no longer able to rule in the old way as the Philippine crisis becomes more and more acute, the conspiracy of local tyrants, warlords, political dynasties and oligarchs has always favored the dismantling of what little remains of democracy in this country and its replacement with dictatorship.

Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. did exactly that — he imposed a dictatorship on the entire country and amassed unprecedented wealth and power in the guise of “reform(ing) society” from 1972 to 1986. But despite his lies and deceit, his sycophants and partners in crime, his military goons, his prisons, torture chambers and his killing machine, in the end he was nevertheless overthrown by an awakened people.

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it. History might yet repeat itself.

First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from PCOO.

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