Former President Fidel Ramos’ claim that all the talk about the imposition of martial rule is nonsense has been echoed by a number of politicians and media commentators. Primarily they cite the conditions and limits the 1987 Constitution imposes on any declaration of martial law, or attempt to do so.

Section 18 of Article VII (The Executive Department) empowers the President to put the Philippines or any part of it under martial law “in case of invasion or rebellion,” but only for 60 days.

The same section compels the President to report to Congress, both Houses of which can jointly revoke a declaration through a simple majority vote. If Congress is in recess, as it currently is, it must convene within 24 hours of any declaration of martial law. Meanwhile, upon the complaint of any citizen, the Supreme Court may review the factual basis for the declaration, and what’s more, must decide on the petition within 30 days.

A declaration of martial law would be extremely problematic for Arroyo and her crew. Moreover, they also have the current political situation to contend with, among them the division in the Philippine Armed Forces, which some media groups say is running at 70 percent of the officer corps against Arroyo and 30 percent for.

These numbers do not favor her declaring martial law, the implementation of which would be the military’s burden. But it’s not only the limits in the 1987 Constitution, but also the impact of such a declaration on civil society, academia, the military, and the international community that has stayed Arroyo’s hand.
This is as far as a declaration is concerned. The implementation of authoritarian policies without the benefit of a declaration is a different matter, and that’s what we’re seeing now: the gradual imposition of de facto authoritarianism. Apparently, this approach is succeeding. Few people are the wiser, lulled as they are by their focus on legality.  This makes the Arroyo regime more dangerous than the Marcos regime. At least the latter had the decency to declare that it had imposed authoritarian rule so everyone could run for cover. .

Those who believe in good faith that the country can rest easy just because Arroyo can’t declare martial law unless she’s gone mad, would be wise to look around them. If they’re honest, they will see sure signs of de facto authoritarian rule, the latest being the police attack on the prayer rally last Friday, October 14, which was attended by former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Senator Jamby Madrigal, Party-List Congressmen Satur Ocampo and Joel Virador, and Catholic Bishops Deogracias Iniguez and Antonio Tobias, among others.

That attack with water cannon was preceded, and is likely to be followed, by the almost daily suppression of the right to assemble freely—a right guaranteed by the very Constitution Ramos and others say prevents Arroyo from declaring martial law.

The police the next day in fact dragged out martial law era justifications for the Friday attack on the prayer rally. Among them was the claim that the rallyists provoked them and deserved the treatment they got, and the absolute lie that some of the rallyists were armed.

The arguments in fact smelled of assumptions one is forced to describe as anti-democratic and ignorant because that’s what they are. One is that the police, instead of protecting citizens and their rights, must protect themselves from them. Another is that “provocation” by unarmed citizens is enough justification to attack them with nightsticks, fire hoses, anti-riot shields and brass knuckles. As if that were not enough, the police and their Malacanang bosses also had the temerity to say that Guingona and the bishops were being “used” by the leftists in attendance in the prayer rally.

It should be obvious that while citizens assert their Constitutional rights by exercising them, the Arroyo regime is engaged in the gradual and methodical suppression of those rights.

It thinks it has found a way around the Constitution through its “no permit no rally” and “Calibrated Preemptive Response” policies.

It is also engaged in a campaign of intimidation through repeated threats to declare a state of emergency, and ramming through Congress the Anti- Terrorism Bill so it can arm itself with a “legal” means of repression despite the Constitution. Meanwhile, the systematic assassination of political activists in the Philippine countryside, which began in 2003, is continuing as part of this tactic (the most recent occurred in Tarlac last Sunday).

But as methodical as it is trying to be, it is such a clumsy, bungling regime it can’t help but commit such blunders as last Friday’s attack on a prayer rally.

Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial rule with the entire military behind him, a middle-class clamor for order, the support of much of the business community, and the reality of political and military assistance from the United States. The Marcos regime nevertheless collapsed in 1986.

In 2005 Arroyo faces a divided military and business community and sectoral and people’s organizations united against her, while she’s certain only of tentative and lukewarm US support. And yet to stay in power she keeps committing such blunders she’s forcing the Church into unifying against her, and, through attacks like that of Friday’s, more and more members of civil society, militant groups, and even the middle- classes into the streets, while the disgruntled elements of the military nurse their growing resentments and bide their time. There is madness in this method.

(Business Mirror)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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