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The fifth untruth about martial law

/ 05:38 AM July 21, 2017

When martial law was proclaimed over the entirety of Mindanao last May, we sought to debunk the myths that had quickly coagulated, like blood, around the proclamation. We identified four untruths: First, that martial law in Mindanao is of concern only to people living in Mindanao. Second, that those expressing their opposition to or even mere concern over the possible consequences of martial law did not care about the conflict in Marawi City or the large-scale problems that persist in Mindanao. Third, that martial law is the answer to Mindanao’s problems. And fourth, that martial law can be used to solve criminality in Mindanao.

All these were untrue, and even the Supreme Court decision that found there was sufficient factual basis for the President to issue the proclamation effectively debunked at least three of them. Only the third myth we identified, that martial law was the answer to Mindanao’s problems, was
arguably left intact by the ruling. In different ways, 14 of the 15 justices justified the use of the commander in chief’s martial law powers in either all of Mindanao, or parts of it.


But like others who have raised their voices, we question the sweeping authority the Court essentially granted President Duterte to impose martial law elsewhere in the Philippines, as long as an actual rebellion or invasion was taking place and public safety required its imposition. This is a direct contravention of the letter of the Constitution and the intent of the framers of the Constitution—while paying tribute to the new, more rigorously constructed facade of the Constitution, the idea sneaks the outdated concept of imminent danger through the legal back door.

Now the President has asked Congress to convene in a special joint session tomorrow to extend Proclamation 216, and he is using the Court’s own argument on his behalf. Citing “validated reports,” he wants Congress to extend martial law because of the imminent, not actual, threat posed by Daesh supporters who are said to be preparing to “launch attacks in Basilan, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos City and Zamboanga City.”

We realize that the so-called Islamic State, another name for Daesh, has suffered a calamitous defeat in Iraq, and that this makes incidental terrorism in other parts of the world, by groups affiliated or seeking affiliation with it, more likely—but the Constitution requires actual, not imminent threat.

At the same time, we are mindful of Solicitor General Jose Calida’s own admission, in oral arguments at the Supreme Court, that the proclamation of martial law no longer granted the President additional powers but merely served as “an exclamation point” to his existing ones.

In truth, the President does not need to extend the imposition of martial rule in Mindanao to suppress the threat posed by the Maute group. After two months of fighting, the terrorists in Marawi are down to a mere fraction of their former strength; there is no showing that they have left Marawi in numbers, to bring the fight elsewhere in Mindanao. There is no showing, either, that the threat to strike “Basilan, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos City and Zamboanga City” is of such a magnitude as to require extraordinary powers to facilitate a military response. We believe that our professional armed services have already all that they need to end the Maute threat; it is only a matter of time.

Instead of listening to the members of his political alliance who counsel the exercise of more power, the President should listen to the people of Marawi City—to the lawyers, for instance, who say that in fact abuses have been committed under martial law (thus creating more discord, rather than laying the groundwork for peace); or to the Catholic bishop in the city, who says it isn’t right to use the slowly improving situation in Marawi to justify extension; or to the provincial officials, who plead with the President to reassure their people so as not to lose their support.

The fifth untruth of martial law then: That an extension is needed to stop the Mautes in Marawi and other terror groups in Mindanao. Bishop Edwin dela Peña said he supported the initial imposition of martial law. “The first martial law declaration was fine but if they are going to use Marawi again to justify its extension, I don’t think it’s right.”

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TAGS: editorial, Marawi City conflict, martial law, Mindanao
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