Martial law as panacea
It was on a Saturday, a nonworking day, when the Senate and the House of Representatives made the unprecedented move of convening jointly to vote on extending the martial rule imposed in Mindanao by President Duterte in the wake of the terrorist siege of Marawi City.
Unprecedented — because, before then, Congress had not bothered to meet, as the Constitution requires, to deliberate and vote on the President’s decision on May 23 to declare martial law on the entire island; various senators and members of the House said it would have been a waste of time as the majority supported the move, anyway.
The outcome of the July 22 joint session clearly bore that out. Voting 261-18, Congress granted Mr. Duterte’s request for an extension of martial law in Mindanao beyond the 60 days allowed by the Constitution.
The two chambers approved a resolution extending the declaration for five months, or until Dec. 31. The tearful appeal of Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, a civil society leader from Marawi who opposed further martial rule in her hometown and region on grounds of alleged burgeoning abuses by soldiers in their zeal to flush out the terrorists — “Please ask us, what do we feel?” she pleaded — was for naught.
In the end, only four senators and 14 members of the House voted no, and Malacañang, through presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella, would claim afterwards that, with the congressional imprimatur, the entire nation “has chosen to stand united in defending the Republic.”
Perhaps it was all a foregone conclusion. Not only is the President’s supermajority in Congress iron-clad at this time, but Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has also expressed enthusiasm for martial law not just as a temporary measure but, as well, virtually the anchor of the President’s governance right up to the end of his term in 2022.
Specifically, the representative of Davao del Norte’s first district wants extended martial rule “para lang matapos itong gulong ito” (so we can get done with this mess). By that he apparently meant the decades-old communist insurgency, along with Moro separatism and terrorist activities by the Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group — the whole lot of Mindanao troubles that he thinks can be resolved through the final solution of martial law.
It’s a theme that Malacañang and its backers in Congress have taken up as well — that this extraordinary power the Constitution grants a president only on the basis of invasion or rebellion can now be stretched for other uses, such as nation-building. As Abella put it after the issuance of the joint Congress resolution: “There is much work to be done in the recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi. Together, let us transform Mindanao into a land of fulfillment.”
Does history back this narrative? Is martial law the cure to Mindanao’s ills that its supporters tout it to be?
A Facebook post claims that Haroun Lucman Jr., vice governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, wanted to speak before Congress on Saturday but was not given the chance to do so. Part of his statement would supposedly have said: “Martial Law to us is repressive, abusive, and dehumanizing. That is the Martial Law that we suffered during the Marcos rule. Our people fear it and abhor it.”
Inquirer columnist Antonio Montalvan II, a Mindanao native, echoed that in his column on Monday: “The military solution for Mindanao has always failed. It has not worked and never will. Military assaults do not address poverty and the disenfranchisement of the Moro masses from the traditional politics that has bred dynasties enriching themselves in office.”
Indeed, history shows that Ferdinand Marcos had 14 years to prove that martial law could solve Mindanao’s endemic problems of poverty, social inequality, warlordism, disempowerment. It didn’t work, and today the region remains as troubled, if not more so. Unhappily, those troubles will continue, as long as their roots remain ignored and unaddressed.
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