Martial law defanged? | Inquirer Opinion

Martial law defanged?

Has the 1987 Cory Constitution defanged martial law?

Having lived through Ferdinand Marcos’ martial rule and now observing martial law in Mindanao under President Duterte, I find obvious differences. Under the latter, there are no widespread arrests and detention of political dissenters, no closure of media outlets, no military tribunals, and apparently no enforced disappearances. All these were rife under the Marcos version, in addition to kleptocracy and cronyism.


Moreover, there seems to have been no executive interference in the system of checks and balances, like the congressional and judicial review of Mr. Duterte’s martial law declaration. Of course, that the administration enjoys the support of supermajorities in both chambers of Congress and a compliant Supreme Court helped in no small measure, with the House of Representatives and the Senate quickly issuing resolutions of support for Proclamation No. 216.

The circumstances of its declaration, the manner of its implementation, the outcome of legislative and judicial reviews beg the question: Is martial law in Mindanao necessary? Is it necessary even only in Marawi? The President’s oft-repeated boast to solve all security problems in Mindanao once and for all through martial law flies in the face of historical experience, unless he means erasing entire communities and engaging in genocide. The Moro resistance, in whatever shape and form, from banditry to secession to Islamist extremism, has defied all “solutions” from whatever colonial power or national government reigns in the country.


The knee-jerk declaration of martial law in Mindanao and the course it has taken vitiated the gravity of the concept. The constitutional conditionalities as well as the manner of martial law’s actual implementation took the sting out of it. Why arm yourself with a club when your fist can readily do the job?

It did not help that Mr. Duterte disappeared for about a week as martial law was hitting its stride and speculations about his health took center stage instead. How serious is he in seeing to martial law’s optimum use during its extension until the yearend?

The only advantage that martial law has granted the national government so far is it has given the armed forces carte blanche to unleash its might upon the Marawi extremists. As well it should. The tenacity and sophistication of the enemy requires nothing less. Not that we wish for harsh martial rule. Maybe this is the proper use of martial law. If martial law under Mr. Duterte is nothing more than the exercise of police and military power to enforce order, then that is as it should be.

Maybe the exorcism of martial law abuses has worked beyond expectations and the vigilance of our people should not be underestimated. After all, if our collective rejection of Marcosian martial rule and its evils has been institutionalized in the 1987 Cory Constitution then the bitter experience that prompted it has borne fruit.

Still, something is not right, something is amiss. What gives? There’s a disconnect somewhere. Maybe the acceptability that martial law has won is its danger. Perhaps it is a conditioning technique that has long-term use for an administration that wants to be decisive and effective and yet can be stymied by entrenched vested interests. Thus, it is necessary that martial law be challenged continuously. And it is necessary that the President show results for its exercise.

But it seems that the Liberal Party, the logical opposition, has given up on its role. Perhaps for practical reasons, as it may not want to further endanger the position of its chair, the Vice President, who has been marginalized for opposing Mr. Duterte’s burial of Marcos’ remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani and the extrajudicial killings that are a part of the ongoing war on drugs.

Or should we pin the acceptability of martial law again on the millennials?


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Roderick Toledo is a freelance communication projects manager.

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TAGS: 1987 Constitution, Ferdinand Marcos, Inquirer Commentary, Mindanao martial law, Roderick Toledo, Rodrigo Duterte
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