Martial law should not be the option for Duterte

“Never again to martial law!” was the emphatic, defiant cry that resounded in all of the protest actions held nationwide last Thursday (Sept. 21), the 45th year of Ferdinand E. Marcos’ martial law declaration that ran for 14 years. Although the same cry has been echoed in each of the previous years’ protest actions, it now carries this new connotation:

“No to martial law under the Duterte regime!”

Apparently the message has registered in President Duterte’s mind, relayed by the series of mass actions and public statements in the days leading to Sept. 21. In his Proclamation 319 (dated Sept. 19) declaring Thursday as a National Day of Protest, he acknowledges that the Marcos martial law era “has imprinted itself in the collective memory of the people as a time attended by the commission of gross human rights violations, arbitrary state interventions, rampant corruption and disregard of fundamental civil liberties.”

More, worth noting is this portion of the proclamation: “This administration recognizes the fear and indignation of the people against a repetition and perpetuation of such human rights violations and all other failings of the government.”

As the protests went on till night – his effigy likening him to Hitler, Marcos, and a lapdog of US imperialism was burned at Mendiola Bridge near Malacanang – Duterte visited his troops in Marawi, accompanied by two of those who had urged him to declare martial law, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and AFP chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año. The AFP troops are said to be “winding down” the nearly four-month battle against the Maute-Abu Sayyaf group in which daily aerial bombings and artillery barrages by government forces have destroyed a large swath of the key Islamic city.

There the President delivered a significant message. The end of the fighting in Marawi, he reportedly said, would signal the lifting of martial law in Mindanao.

Was he trying to assuage the “fear and indignation” of those who have strongly opposed his declaration of martial law in the whole of Mindanao on May 23, its extension till the end of December, and his threat to declare martial law nationwide should the protest actions turn unruly?

Or was he impliedly admitting that, having used the so-called Maute-Abu Sayyaf siege of Marawi as “rebellion” or “invasion” to justify placing the whole of Mindanao under martial law, he made a regrettably precipitate decision?

For one thing, his martial-law declaration has enabled the United States to seize the opportunity to intervene militarily in Marawi and reinforce the presence of US troops in Mindanao and elsewhere in the country. The Americans succeeded in inducing his government and armed forces to adopt the US mode of aerial warfare that has successively devastated large areas of Iraq, Libya, and Syria and now has reduced to rubble much of Marawi, killing about 800 people and displacing 400,000 residents of the city and surrounding municipalities.

By acceding to the US intervention, Duterte practically discarded his avowed “independent foreign policy” and embraced the proverbial role of his predecessors as chief US imperialist lapdog or lackey.

For another, his government’s excuse that the fighting in Marawi could spill over to the rest of Mindanao has been shown up to be without basis. It was rationalized that the AFP prevented that from happening by conducting checkpoints in many areas of Mindanao; but even that cannot hold, simply because the military have been maintaining checkpoints all along for decades.

For sure there was no factual basis, under the conditions stipulated in the 1987 Constitution, for declaring martial law in the whole of Mindanao. Much less could there be factual basis for declaring martial law in the entire archipelago. Martial law shouldn’t be an option for Duterte.

On Sept. 20, Duterte gave the following reason for declaring martial law on May 23:

“[B]ecause the Constitution mandates that I have to do something about it (the Marawi “siege”), that’s why I declared martial law. And I grieve, because I was the one who told the soldiers, ‘Go there to die.’ So that is my burden.”

Consonant with such sense of burden, Duterte says he is spurning any idea of celebrating victory once the fighting in Marawi ends. He has expressed equal grief over the deaths of government soldiers and of the alleged Islamic extremists who furiously fought the state security forces.

“I do not want any celebration of victory. All of us lost in Marawi,” he said in a government television interview. “Every Moro that died, or every soldier that died, breaks our heart. They’re all Filipinos. Out of respect for those who died and for our fellow Filipinos, nobody will talk about victory or defeat.”

Such a statesmanly and humane stance speaks about a positive side of President Duterte’s persona. Yet, so many wonder why he takes a diametrically opposed stance as regards alleged or suspected illegal drug pushers and users, whom he denigrates as devoid of humanity and deserving to die in the nationwide police anti-drug campaign.

Doesn’t he regard the drug pushers/users as fellow Filipinos too? If his heart breaks over the death in battle of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf extremists, can’t he feel equally touched over the killing of drug pushers/users, whether they fought back or not?

His obsessive statement in Marawi on Thursday will surely continue to spur protests and condemnations here and abroad: “The war on drugs will continue. There will be no letup.”

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Published in Philippine Star
Sept. 23, 2017

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