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COMMENTARY

Extend martial law? What for?

05:06 AM December 12, 2017

Many residents of Marawi City are lackadaisical toward, if not wary of, the issue of extending martial law in Mindanao, maybe out of despair and hopelessness. Such an extraordinary presidential power reserved by the Constitution for extreme crisis did not save their city from being flattened into rubble. In fact, it might even have emboldened military planners into carpet-bombing Marawi and unleashing military might. Martial law neither protected their houses from ruin nor accelerated the city’s liberation from the jihadists. So why the fuss over the issue?

The opinion advanced by Sen. Franklin Drilon, who knows his law, having twice served as secretary of justice (forget that he is a “dilawan”), should not be casually dismissed by Malacañang. The alleged “significant violent activities” and continuing threat by extremists to security, upon which the military and police base their recommendation to extend martial law, are way off the constitutional requirement of persisting rebellion or invasion or when “public safety requires it.” The fact that there is no ACTUAL rebellion and invasion in Mindanao stares us in the face. No amount of sugarcoating and gobbledygook can shroud that. But then, cases are often decided, not on legal grounds, but on other factors, not the least of them politics.

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Martial law is needed in the rehabilitation of Marawi? I don’t see the nexus, except perhaps in that it can suspend bidding on and speed up reconstruction projects—which can be done anyway by other executive fiats.

As an upside to today’s martial law, I don’t see any fingerprint or vestige close enough to what we experienced during Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship. Every time I go to Iligan City I keep forgetting that we are under martial law. (Until now we are barred from visiting our house in Marawi and seeing the extent of its destruction even if it is distant from “ground zero” and despite the message of the secretary of national defense to allow me and my son, Maamor, to at least put locks on the doors of what remains of our house as well as the compound after the bombing and subsequent ransacking. Our hope is that perchance some memorabilia can still be retrieved.)

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Let me give you a glimpse of a facet of Marcos’ martial law that is absent in today’s situation. One time after playing golf in nearby Iligan, my friends, including then Vice Gov. Abdul Marohombsar (now deceased), and I were stopped at a military checkpoint. I was driving my car and was ordered by a soldier to disembark and take off my golf cap and shades, just to irritate us. In good nature and hoping a semblance of respect would be accorded our group, the vice governor introduced me as the president of the local branch of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, which I was. This got the goat of the soldier, who angrily swore and retorted that it was lawyers like us who were making life hard for them: “P*ta, kayong mga abogado ang nagpapahirap sa buhay namin!” He held us for about 30 minutes, or until the queue of cars behind us was about two kilometers long.

In another instance, soldiers rounded up professionals, religious leaders and sultans, and government officials, including myself, and detained us for days on end on the trumped-up charge of rebellion. Now contrast this with the raid on the houses of the Parojinogs and similar raids and arrests that were done only on the strength of warrants issued by a court.

Kudos to the framers of the 1987 Constitution who, taking a leaf from the experience during the Marcos regime, made it difficult, through rigid protocols, for a president to declare martial law and instituted safeguards for the citizenry’s civil and political rights.

As for the issue at hand: Extending martial law or not will not bring back our former life as residents of Marawi, or
the smiles on our faces, or our precious possessions. What the heck.

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Macabangkit B. Lanto ([email protected] yahoo.com), UP Law 1967, was a Fulbright fellow in New York University for his postgraduate studies. He has served the government as congressman, ambassador, and undersecretary, among other positions.

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TAGS: Inquirer Commentary, macabangkit b. lanto, Marawi siege, Mindanao martial law
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