Talk is rife that the Arroyo government would proclaim martial law, especially after the series of bombings that rocked several parts of the Philippines. However, the Arroyo regime sorely lacks the factors that enabled the dictator Ferdinand Marcos to successfully impose martial rule. The bottomline: if Arroyo declares martial law, she would be adding fuel to the fire of the people’ anger.
By BENJIE OLIVEROS
MANILA — The day started like any other. But things were very much different. Television screens went blank; all that one could hear on the radio was static. On the streets, the people were going about their daily business but one could feel the uneasiness in the air. Gone were the almost daily demonstrations and clashes between the Metrocom (Metropolitan Command) and the protesters. The bombings also stopped.
By the time Ferdinand Marcos’s information minister Francisco Tatad appeared on air to read Proclamation 1081, the military and police had established control over the country, conducting simultaneous raids and arrests of activists and the opposition, padlocking television and radio stations, and manning checkpoints that control the movement of people.
In one broad sweep, Marcos was able to install himself as dictator. He subsequently “legitimized” his hold to power by reconvening the 1971 constitutional convention to effect a shift to a parliamentary system of government, with a strong president and a weak prime minister.
While activists and the opposition had been saying all along that Marcos would declare martial law, especially after he suspended the writ of habeas corpus more than a year before, in August 1971, many Filipinos were still surprised when he did declare it.
The element of surprise and the capability to exercise complete control through the military and police – these were the two major factors that enabled Marcos to successfully declare martial law. And when he was able to do so, he tried to consolidate his rule by proclaiming that he would usher in a “New Society” that was characterized by order, as opposed to the anarchy of the past, and prosperity for all, versus the oligopolistic control of the old society. There were some who actually believed him or were willing to tolerate martial law and see whether he would be able to deliver on his promises — at least during the early years.
Of course, another essential factor that enabled Marcos to declare martial law was the support of the US. The Laurel-Langley Agreement, which granted American businessmen the same rights as Filipinos, was about to expire in 1974 and the US wanted to make sure that its interests were protected thereafter. The US then supported dictators who protected its interests all over the world.
Today, talk is rife that the Arroyo government would proclaim martial law, especially after the series of bombings that rocked several parts of the country. However, the Arroyo government sorely lacks the factors that enabled Marcos to successfully impose martial rule. Arroyo could no longer use the element of surprise as the progressive movement and the opposition have been preparing for possible martial law. When the Arroyo government issued Presidential Proclamation 1017 (PP1017) in 2006, placing the country under a state of national emergency, it was immediately challenged by street demonstrations and through a petition filed before the Supreme Court.
While the chain of command of the military still holds, the regime could not be too sure about the loyalties of the military and police if and when it declares martial law or another state of national emergency. The divisiveness of the military and police forces is evidenced by repeated attempts by some officers to call on soldiers and police officials to withdraw support from the Arroyo government. In the event that Arroyo is able to pull it off, it has no credibility left that would enable it to hold on to power even for a year. Its unresolved issues of corruption and bribery, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and other human-rights violations would continue to haunt it. More importantly, the Filipino people had flexed its political muscle to oust a dictator before and they are likely to do it again.
As to the US, it would decide again on the basis of its interests. If it thinks that supporting a dictator would be the best way to advance its interest now that it is under a deep economic crisis, it would support Arroyo. After all, Washington has been pushing for amendments to the 1987 Philippine Constitution to remove restrictions on the activities of its monopoly corporations.
But if the US thinks that supporting a dictator is not in its best interest now because of its Bush-tarnished image and that doing so would create a situation that would strengthen the Left and other patriotic groups and individuals, it would not support Arroyo.
These, perhaps, are what keeps the Arroyo government in check whenever it is inclined to declare martial law. But this does not mean that it would not or could not declare martial law or another state of national emergency. It could still do so in a moment of desperation such as in February 2006 or, as former speaker Jose de Venecia revealed, in 2007.
Nobody has claimed responsibility for the recent bombings. And it is not farfetched that these were done to create a climate of fear to justify declaring martial law or a state of national emergency. The holding of a constituent assembly in the next few weeks would not be as smooth as the Arroyo government would have wanted and the May 2010 elections, when Arroyo is supposed to step down, is drawing near. If it does try to declare martial law or another state of national emergency, it would be adding fuel to the fire of the people’ anger.