What happened to ‘never again’?

By | July 29, 2017

What ever happened to “Never again to martial law”? A phrase opt-repeated in many rallies long after the Filipino people ousted the dictatorship of the late Ferdinand Marcos in what is now known as “People Power,” it seems “never again” has lost its luster in the face of the emergence of another strongman that doesn’t hesitate to say Marcos was his idol.


President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in May throughout Mindanao to quell what he insisted was a rebellion by extremists who, he said, was planning to establish a caliphate in Marawi City, and it seemed the whimper of “never again” by a few souls were drowned out by the “ayes” of Duterte’s bootlickers in the not-so-hallowed halls of Congress.


Instead of convening in joint session to debate on whether the martial law declaration was in accordance with the provision of the 1987 Constitution and whether “rebellion or invasion” actually existed in Mindanao, the House of Representatives and the Senate separately passed resolutions endorsing Proclamation 216 – the present-day equivalent of Marcos’ infamous Proclamation 1018 – with not even a shadow of deliberation or discussion.


The Supreme Court, supposedly the people’s last resort, also absconded its constitutional duty to review the martial law declaration when it ruled that it was not equipped with facts to conduct such review and basically left it to the President to make the determination by simply showing probable cause – not incontrovertible facts –  that rebellion or invasion exists.


Only one justice dared mention that popular phrase “never again.” In his dissenting opinion, Justice Marvic Leonen said: “Never again should this Court allow itself to step aside when the powerful invoke vogue powers that feed on fear but could potentially undermine our most cherished rights. Never again should we fall victim to a false narrative that a vague declaration of martial law is good for us no matter the circumstances. We have the courage to never again clothe authoritarianism in any disguise with the mantle of constitutionality.”


Last Saturday, Congress met in a hurried joint session and with an overwhelming vote of 261-18, elected to extend – not for another 60 days – but for the rest of the year, exactly as requested by Duterte, throughout the region of Mindanao.


Did we expect more from a chamber whose leader has suggested that martial law should be extended until the end of Duterte’s term in 2022?


Senators Risa Hontiveros and Franklin Drilon were allowed to raise questions to some members of Duterte’s Cabinet, led by martial law administrator Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana during a supposed hearing, but for a few ramblings and unrelated facts, failed to answer the following questions:


  • “Why is there a need to extend martial law until December if the government claims that it is in full control of the situation, that the skirmishes are confined to Marawi City and that most of the Maute have been “neutralized?”


  • “What does the government hope to achieve by martial law that it cannot bring to pass by any of the laws now in force, such as the Human Security Act (the Anti-Terrorism Law)?”  


Indeed, why extend martial law until December and throughout Mindanao, and not just in Marawi City when the government has repeatedly said that the rebellion has been contained? Lorenzana echoed what Duterte and Malacanang spokesmen have repeatedly said in justifying martial law in the region – that there is real danger that the rebellion could spread to other areas in Mindanao and such danger must be stopped now.


Even assuming that rebellion actually does exist in Marawi City because of the Maute Group, does the same situation exist outside Marawi? Apparently not, because Duterte and the military have never mentioned a similar rebellion in Davao, Sulu or any other place, except to say that there is imminent danger of the rebellion spreading to other areas in the region.


The 1987 Constitution precisely did away with the phrase “imminent danger thereof” in the 1935 Constitution to prevent a repeat of Marcos’ martial law. The 1987 Constitution instead mandates that the President can only declare martial law if there is clear evidence that rebellion (or invasion) actually exists and that public safety demands it. Not just the fear of imminent danger of a rebellion or invasion.


If the proclamations of the military that only a handful of Maute members are in Marawi and that they are trapped in a small section of the city were true, will it take until December to vanquish them? What kind of military do we have then?


Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said that martial law should be extended to eliminate once and for all the threat of extremism and insurgency in the region to enable Mindanao to grow to its potential. History tells us that military solution alone is not the answer to rebellion or insurgency, in the same manner that killing three million drug users will not solve the drug problem.


Marcos went all-out militarily against the Muslim and the communist insurgents throughout his 13-year martial rule but the Moro rebellion and communist insurgency both grew because the root problems that spawned them worsened. Government leaders will have to accept the fact that insurgency is directly proportional to poverty and injustice. As poverty and injustice grow, so does insurgency.


So why does Duterte, who has obviously religiously followed the life and work of Ferdinand Marcos, continue to believe that the only answer to the drug problem is killing the drug addicts, that the answer to insurgency is eliminating the insurgents, and that to curb criminality, criminals must be executed?


Why must a leader have emergency powers to solve nagging problems? For example, will giving him emergency powers, as proposed by his allies, solve the traffic problem, or the lack of infrastructure?


Is it democracy or the rule of law that is blocking progress for the Philippines, or the goal to eliminate poverty? Is Duterte conditioning our minds that martial law is the answer to all the country’s problems? That achieving prosperity for the Filipino people is possible only under an atmosphere of fear and repression? That martial law is what the country needs?


No, please. Never again!