When President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared Martial Law (ML) on September 21, 1972 throughout the Philippines, Proclamation 1081 was generally welcomed by the vast majority of Filipinos. The justifications given then by the president resonated well among the people who were fearful of the communist movement. The other justification was that there was a growing Moro rebellion in Mindanao and that it posed a threat to national security.
While I could relate to the growing communist insurgency, rebellion in Mindanao was far removed to be a major concern for me. Having been elected president of the high school student body back then, I was often invited to attend rallies staged by student activists from the different schools in Naga City. Ateneo de Naga was well-known for perhaps having the most active leaders at the forefront of the campus movement but we had our share at the Camarines Sur National High School. It was not clear to me then how serious this whole thing was until ML was declared and some of our local leaders were picked up by the military and not seen for months. It turned out that some of the student leaders themselves were military deep penetration agents posing as activists.
The sight of a poled Philippine flag turned upside down during protest marches turned off my sensibilities and was part of my reasons for avoiding these marches and turning down invitations to speak at rallies. Growing up in a sleepy town in Bicol perhaps insulated me from a lot of the national issues consuming the country. As a matter of fact, even in the next three years while still going to school in Bicol, the evil of ML was not as evident as it was in big cities. Thus ML at any time does not conjure for me, the horrors that other people went through during the decades of misrule by Marcos.
Thus, it does not surprise me that President Rodrigo Duterte’s ML declaration covering the whole island of Mindanao was met with great apprehension by many particularly those who have been victims of ML. It is almost like an automatic gut reaction that the mere mention of ML instills fear on people.
But one of the permanent changes that took place after the 1987 Constitution was ratified was the defanging of ML and diluting some of the presidential powers that were abused by Marcos. Duterte’s ML declaration is only good for 60 days but can be extended with concurrence from Congress. With supermajorities in both Houses, extending it beyond 60 days seems like a foregone conclusion. Unlike in 1972 when Marcos practically dissolved Congress, this time the courts are open and Congress continues to function.
The declaration placing the entire Mindanao under ML although it is only in Marawi City that is under siege seems suspicious that perhaps Duterte may just be using this as a legal cover for the extra judicial killings being undertaken by the state. After all, the writ of habeas corpus has been suspended thus authorizing warrantless arrests for those suspected of being part of the rebellion.
The images coming out of Marawi City of bodies littered on the streets, the Islamic State’s flag eerily flying atop some public buildings and people getting caught in the crossfire and being displaced by the war are not pretty sights. But the problem of the rebellion and the threat of ISIS taking hold in Marawi and perhaps other places in Mindanao is real. Rebellion in Mindanao is nothing new and the acronyms MNLF, MILF, BIFF, and now the Maute group are products of such rebellions. Despite decades of Moro rebellions nobody has ever thought of using ML to address the problems that been confronting Mindanao for all these years. It took somebody from Mindanao to use ML to deal with it. The question is, is it justified and will it be effective and not abused?
I’m glad that Vice President Leni Robredo came out in support of the president’s approach. Such show of support will go a long way with the Duterte administration. Her advocating support for the ML declaration will give the president some breathing room to deal with the situation. The rest of the Liberal Party and Makabayan bloc opposition are exercising their functions as legislators and questioning the justification for such declaration may run the risk of further alienating the people.
In truth, Duterte will have a hard time coming up with the needed justification to support his declaration for the whole island. He may be justified for Marawi City but not for the whole Mindanao. Still, I agree with the Speaker and the Senate President to not question Duterte’s motives at this time and support him instead. Yes, the lessons of ML are still fresh in our minds but given the constitutional controls in place now that much of the abuses that took place before is no longer possible.
One has to factor in what is happening in the Middle East to fully understand the gravity of what is taking place in Mindanao. Funded by local politicians and drug money, expanding the ISIS ideology in Muslim Mindanao is not farfetched given the determination being shown by the rebels or Islamic terrorists. While Duterte is at it, he should also use this opportunity to deal with the New People’s Army whose active battle with the military and the police in Mindanao despite ongoing peace negotiations must also stop. If done properly, Duterte can usher in a new society not only in Mindanao but the rest of the country.
Perhaps 60 days may not be enough to ensure lasting peace in Mindanao but it is a good start. Duterte has the guts, motivation, temperament and means to put an end to the military and ideological conflicts taking place there and the rest of the country. He may not be savvy about it but unquestionably, he has the heart for it and the right determination to effect such major change decisively put this to rest and get back on running the country and dealing with corruption in government that is still pervasive.
ML can make him but it can also undue him. If Duterte allows and tolerates abuses and prolongs the martial rule chances are the people will get tired of him. But if he effectively uses this opportunity to deal with private armies, environmental pillage and violence in Mindanao then he could expand his popularity and earn him multitudes of goodwill that he will need to straighten out the rest of the country.
Same goes with VP Robredo. Sticking with the president throughout this ordeal could help earn back the trust of Filipinos who have been dissatisfied with her actions. She should stay in the Philippines while everything is not back to a new normal and cancel pronto all out of country speaking engagements until Duterte gives the all-clear signal. She should even consider convincing other LP legislators to follow her lead on this and not be perceived as obstructionist to the president’s agenda. Doing so would make her appear more “stateswoman” rather than one in hurry to take over the presidency.