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Martial law and institutional accountability

Last Dec. 10, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo announced that martial law in Mindanao will not be extended.

“The Palace is confident on the capability of our security forces in maintaining the peace and security of Mindanao without extending martial law,” he said.

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President Duterte’s decision on this matter came days after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año both recommended the nonextension of martial law in Mindanao.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, the primary executor of the contentious policy, dutifully welcomed the commander in chief’s pronouncement.

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“We have cited several reasons [for the recommendation] like the improved security climate in Mindanao, the continuous decline of the Daesh-inspired local terrorist groups, and to further promote an environment more conducive to economic activities… in terms of increase in trade and commerce in Mindanao,” said AFP spokesperson Marine Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo in an interview.

When martial law was imposed on Mindanao at the height of the Marawi siege in May 2017, various groups expressed their misgivings about it, citing the measure’s dark history under President Ferdinand Marcos.

Under martial rule, the military can impose curfews, checkpoints and gun controls, and suspects can be detained for longer periods without criminal charges being filed in court. Such extended authority given the military, along with the measure’s dark past, made for valid concerns.

But despite these concerns, observers heralded Mindanao’s martial law as one of the factors that made the peaceful conduct of the plebiscite for the newly formed Bangsamoro entity early this year a success.

The plebiscite was crucial for the covered areas’ successful transition from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM); it paved the way for the institutionalization of the agreed-upon political settlement that aims to address the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people and other indigenous communities in Mindanao, to rectify the historical injustices committed against them by the state.

In a report early this year, International Alert claimed that martial rule reduced conflict incidents in Mindanao by 30 percent in 2017 and 2018.

Conflict incidence across all provinces in the ARMM dropped by 30 percent, from 4,140 incidents in 2017 to 2,910 in 2018, according to the report.

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Conflict deaths also decreased by 60 percent in 2018 from a year before, from 2,261 to 900.

“The State was able to maintain a fragile peace in the Bangsamoro by imposing martial law, which in turn deterred the carrying and use of firearms,” said Nikki de la Rosa, the country manager of International Alert.

The Armed Forces must take credit for any positive change in the way people see and understand martial rule, though this is not an endorsement of the measure.

It was also the AFP that recommended that the policy be discontinued—a recognition that such measure ultimately contrasts with the essence of how a democratically instituted society must be governed.

The AFP is a dynamic institution that has constantly evolved with the times. Though there are episodes of backsliding along the way (read: Arroyo generals and the “pabaon” scandal), the institution, through various reform initiatives, has worked hard to redeem itself, professionalize its ways, and move away from the Armed Forces of the Marcos regime characterized by abuse and excess.

Various policies have been introduced to modernize the institution: the AFP Modernization Act of 1995, the Revised AFP Modernization Act of 2012, and more recently, the AFP Transformation Roadmap, a reform initiative that aims to transform the Armed Forces into a strong and credible institution built on good governance.

Still, the AFP continues to be haunted by the ghost of a dark past: It was used by a civilian commander in chief to inflict harm on the people the soldiers were mandated to protect.

Hence, if the institution wants to become a truly world-class armed forces, it must, while looking forward, also look back and acknowledge what made the excesses in the first martial rule possible, so it can put up mechanisms of accountability and assure the people that those responsible for abuses and excesses will truly be made to account for their actions.

It is only then that the Filipino people can look forward to an AFP that will be a source of national pride.

P2Lt Jesse Angelo L. Altez, from General Santos City, is a member of the Corps of Professors, Armed Forces of the Philippines. The views expressed here are entirely his own and do not represent the position of the AFP.

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TAGS: AFP, martial law, Military, Mindanao, Salvador Panelo, soldiers
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