Martial law? | Inquirer Opinion
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Martial law?

/ 12:32 AM January 19, 2017

If a president wants to enforce martial law, the Constitution requires concurrence from Congress and the Supreme Court. President Duterte has said he wants to remove those constraints in a new constitution. The opposition is expressing fear that this is the secret intention behind his wish for constitutional change. I don’t agree. I don’t believe he has any intention to impose martial law; it was just one of his throwaway lines. And he made it clear long before he even considered seeking the presidency that he wanted constitutional change, and why he wanted it. He wanted it to shift to a federal system.

But it doesn’t matter at all what the Constitution says. If a president wants to introduce martial law, all he or she needs is the military, and hopefully the police, on his or her side. Guns overrule any constitution. Congress opposes? Throw them in jail. The Supreme Court opposes? Lock the doors. Marcos showed how easy it was to do. But don’t worry, it isn’t going to happen. This is a nonissue that deserves no time in the media.


I agree that this is a president who likes to shoot his mouth off in extemporaneous outbursts that should be worrisome if taken literally. But that’s to not understand him. He’s a man that flies into a fit of anger and frustration at a system that, we all agree, has driven us mad, too. It’s one he wants to change, but is a system so entrenched that change is extraordinarily difficult. It almost needs a dictator to break it, but the risk is too high. Great, benevolent dictators are just too few. But a step below it could work—a tough, determined leader willing to break unreasonable, dilatory opposition.

I read it as this is what the public wanted. It’s what Mr. Duterte wants, but the question is: Can he deliver it? Can he force change without breaking the democratic underpinnings of Philippine society? This is what the public is asking. It’s a fine line that needs careful leadership.


In the past six months I’ve seen a president and his Cabinet pushing for change, for action. But there is a bureaucracy, a Congress, and a court system conducting “business as usual.” The public’s frustration hasn’t sunk through. So some strong leadership is certainly needed. It’s time to crack heads. He can’t do it with the other two independent branches of government, but he can persuade them. But that shouldn’t be needed; they should want to move faster, more constructively.

For instance, emergency powers should be handled by Congress as an emergency issue, and rushed through. Reducing our taxes should be now, not one year from now, and not in tranches (see my column of 1/12/17), and the changes needed to pay for the reduction approved quickly without interminable argument. The bureaucratic roadblocks to building crucial projects must be abolished. Streamlining the business registration and licensing system is urgent, and correcting then President Benigno Aquino III’s violation of contracts must be done if new investment is to be attracted. And much, much else.

The Supreme Court should junk the temporary restraining order on Implanon and Implanon NXT now, today. More than a year-and-a-half is an unconscionable delay on an issue the Court shouldn’t even have accepted (see my column of 12/1/16).

We have a country finally achieving real growth, but growth too limited to too few. The Philippines is at a point where it really could excite, could entice, real levels (two, three, four times the level today) of investment, and large numbers of tourists. A doubling is easily possible. But it can’t happen if desired, radical changes aren’t made. And made now.

Where’s the sense of urgency? Why isn’t it there? What does it take to get the people in the decision-making roles of government to realize that people, worldwide, are fed up? This is going to be a year of massive changes: Brexit, Trump, Erdogan turning Turkey into a dangerous Islamic nationalism, and Le Pen’s threat to pull France out of the European Union are but a few.

Democratic systems everywhere are at risk, unless they change to meet the demands of frustrated publics. But through martial law? If won’t happen.

 E-mail: [email protected] Read my previous columns:

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TAGS: Congress, Duterte, emergency powers, martial law, opinion, Supreme Court
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