Ending martial law
The commemoration last week of the martyrdom of Ninoy Aquino at the Manila airport tarmac 34 years ago on Aug. 21, 1983, reminded us of the horrors of the martial law (ML) regime of Ferdinand Marcos.
Martial law exorcised. Whether at the tarmac, at the Luneta, at the Manila Memorial Park where his remains are immortalized, or at other venues, the ML survivors — led by former president Benigno Aquino III — fittingly remembered Ninoy’s heroic sacrifice of his life that we may enjoy ours, but ominously warned against a repetition of ML.
President Duterte has, however, said more than once (the latest being during his State of the Nation Address on July 24) that he was “not stupid” to impose ML nationwide because he knew only too well its constitutional constraints. I think that if he wanted to impose authoritarian rule, he would simply set aside the Constitution and rely on the brute power of the military and the police.
Truly, the 1987 Constitution has exorcised the evils of ML. As I wrote on Aug. 13, ML — under the present Charter — merely:
- Facilitates the apprehension of suspects in the crimes of rebellion and invasion (but not in other crimes) and, with the concurrent suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, allows the detention of the suspects for 72 hours (instead of the usual 36 hours).
- Triggers some constitutional provisions that could give the President additional powers or restrict some constitutional rights, provided Congress passes implementing laws specifically defining those powers and rights. Notably, the President has not asked for, and Congress has not passed, such laws.
Bloated recognition. Consequently, I wonder why the military needed, and still needs, martial law. Other than facilitating the arrest and detention of rebellion suspects a little longer, ML has had, from where I sit, a limited role in suppressing the rebellion in Marawi and Mindanao.
On the other hand, the imposition of ML has unintentionally given bloated international recognition to the ability of the Mautes and the Islamic-State-connected group of Isnilon Hapilon to engage and, for a while, stymie our far more numerous, superiorly armed, and better trained military for more than three months now.
This recognition gave the rebels the opportunity to acquire more logistics, funds and arms from other radical groups, to recruit more cadres and to prolong their terroristic agenda.
ML’s minuses. Foreigners still believe the traditional concept that ML automatically suspends the rule of law, suppresses civil liberties and imposes authoritarian rule. They are not aware of the strict limitations under our 1987 Constitution. Hence, they avoid places where ML reigns.
True, foreign tourist arrivals for the entire country grew 12.73 percent in the first half of this year to 3.36 million from 2.98 million in the comparable period last year. But arrivals in Mindanao have suffered cancellations precisely due to the perceived strength of the rebels that necessitated the imposition and extension of ML.
Likewise, some long-term investments in infrastructures and manufacturing have been put on hold. Closer to the poor, agriculture-based jobs have dissipated while private capital has become shy.
I am sure the Duterte administration is fully aware of these minuses. Nonetheless, it has asked for and received from Congress an extension of ML till Dec. 31. It must have some reasons beyond my reach as an ordinary citizen.
Given, however, that the final assault to wipe out the few remaining rebels is well on its way, the military could or can recommend ML’s termination soon. No law prevents the President from accepting such recommendation and ending ML at any time prior to Dec. 31.
By lifting ML (and the suspension of the privilege) early, the President will signal normalization in Mindanao. He will also be lauding the ability of the military to contain the uprising, moving forward, without any need to detain rebellion suspects for more than the usual 36 hours.
Moreover, he will also encourage the return of tourists and of long-term investments in Mindanao to create new jobs and to rev up the economy.
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