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Commentary

Martial law and the military

With the Supreme Court’s controversial upholding of the legality of President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao and its extension by Congress, it is necessary to take a look at the institution at the center of it all: the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

In a liberal democracy such as ours, the military is under absolute civilian control. The Commander in Chief of the AFP is the president, a civilian, appointed by the sovereign people through a democratic election.

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This civilian control keeps the military in check. For as is commonly accepted in contemporary civil-military parlance, a skilled and professionalized military must be guarded by a civilian government to prevent the likelihood of society transforming into a garrison state.

The declaration of martial law in Mindanao brings to mind the awful experiences of civilians during Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship. Under the guise of a reformed nation and the suppression of communist and Moro insurgents, the civilian-president-turned-autocrat employed the full force of the military to divest citizens of their rights, assert his totalitarian power to plunder the state, and advance his private interests.

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These are some of the reasons President Duterte should be more cautious with his pronouncements on martial law. He should not dismiss the misgivings of those who don’t approve of his declaration.

But despite the Commander in Chief’s contentious (and sometimes insensitive) statements, the AFP leadership has maintained a sober and dignified demeanor throughout the crisis besetting Marawi City.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the administrator of martial rule, has been honest and frugal with his remarks. In one interview, he admitted that the government had underestimated the capacity of the terrorists. And he had even cautioned the President against extending martial law beyond 60 days.

While the declaration and extension of martial law in Mindanao made up a political decision that is beyond the purview of the military, the AFP can well maximize this “opportunity” to provide some sense of institutional reparation for its behavior during Marcos’ martial rule.

With the defense secretary at the rudder of Task Force Bangon Marawi (the interagency group formed to rehabilitate the devastated city), the Development Support and Security Plan (Oplan Kapayapaan) will be put to a test. The public will eventually see whether or not the AFP is capable of heading and working with civil society to bring about a peaceful and vibrant community.

The military engaging in development work is not new. Writing in the Asia-Pacific Social Science Review, retired colonel Dencio S. Acop argues that it is historically an integral part of the AFP’s roles. The Philippines has seen a military working beyond its traditional mandate of “protector” and, in many cases, providing the much-needed manpower for the development of rural communities.

Understanding that poverty and underdevelopment brought about by ineffective political decisions are the underlying cause of armed conflict, the Internal Peace and Security Plan (Oplan Bayanihan) of the previous administration institutionalized its approach to grassroots peace-building by collaborating with community stakeholders. The same is the principle behind the current Oplan Kapayapaan, which aspires to build on the gains of the previous security plan and to “sustain the peace.”

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But it remains to be felt.

To be fair, the military as an institution has changed much since the Marcos dictatorship. Yet if the AFP really wants to regain the people’s trust, those officials and personnel who abuse their mandate should be dealt with accordingly, and swiftly.

The AFP was used by a civilian leader in the past to inflict harm on the people it should have protected. It should be more cautious this time.

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Jesse Angelo L. Altez is an academic and development worker based in Mindanao. React: @AngeloAltez

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TAGS: AFP, Ferdinand Marcos, Inquirer Commentary, jesse angelo l. altez, Marawi rehabilitation, Marawi siege, Mindanao martial law, Rodrigo Duterte
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