OUR “state of lawless violence” has long preceded President Duterte’s formal declaration of its existence. The drug menace and the killings intended to solve it, the hostage-takings and the beheading of hostages who cannot afford to pay their kidnappers, the sporadic random explosions of violence, and the unpunished crimes on the streets more than amply demonstrate it. It was not necessary for the President to declare its existence, or how he is going to deal with it. He only has to do what needs to be done.
State of emergency, nothing else
On the eve of his departure for the Asean summit in Laos on Monday, DU30 clarified that the country is not in a state of lawlessness or lawless violence, but rather in a “state of emergency because of lawless violence.” After a couple of initial misses, the government lawyers finally got it. That’s more like it.
Under the Constitution, “the President shall be Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding 60 days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under Martial Law.”
All that PDU30 has to do is to call out whatever armed forces he needs to prevent or suppress lawless violence. Until the bombing, he had used the national police to go after drug suspects, and this has produced mixed results. Now, if he is convinced the Abu Sayyaf Group is the source of lawless violence, he will have to call on the Armed Forces to deal effectively with it. No formal declaration is needed. He will need such declaration only if he decides to suspend the privilege of the writ or proclaim Martial Law, neither of which he wants to do, and the basis for which does not quite exist.
To proclaim Martial Law or suspend the writ, a rebellion or an invasion must first exist, and public safety must require it. Although two ongoing rebellions—one by the CPP/NPA/NDF and another by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)—could justify one course of action or the other, these armed insurgencies have been neutered by the ongoing peace talks, the first in Oslo with the CPP/NPA/NDF, the second in Kuala Lumpur with the MILF. They can no longer be invoked to justify an extraordinary response.
Malacañang says the proclamation of national emergency does not need the concurrence of Congress. The nation, however, needs to know what exactly DU30 wants to do under this proclamation. Article VI, Section 23 (2) of the Constitution provides that, “In times of war or other national emergency, the Congress may, by law, authorize the President, for a limited period and subject to such restrictions as it may prescribe, to exercise powers necessary and proper to carry out a declared national policy.”
Is DU30 asking Congress for anything in particular? There is no word on that, but it doesn’t seem to be the most pressing question now. The more relevant question is this: Can the DU30 government wage an effective campaign against the Abu Sayyaf, while holding peace talks and trying to maintain a ceasefire with the CPP/NPA/NDF and the MILF? Can it do so while trying to eliminate all the drug pushers and users in a war that has been tainted with extrajudicial killings?
Is there no danger that while the MILF is trying to make peace with the government, some of its members could start migrating to the ASG, in the same manner that some members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) started migrating to the MILF as soon as a peace agreement between the government and the MNLF appeared imminent during the Ramos administration?
Is there no danger that Moros, turned off by police excesses in the current anti-narcotics campaign, could turn to the ASG as the only way of identifying themselves with the opposition?
Will ASG be the next organized rebel force?
In other words, is there no danger that, from a small band of about 200 outlaws, specializing in banditry, piracy, and kidnapping for ransom, the Abu Sayyaf could finally evolve into the next jihadist rebel force, with links to ISIS? How can DU30 make sure this does not happen? Although the ASG has the lowest reputation among the armed groups in Mindanao, it seems to have attracted some perverse following in the Middle East, where rich Islamist patrons reportedly pay a generous sum for every beheading in Sulu and Basilan which the murderous group is able to document and share with them.
There seems to be some misplaced Arab pride in what the Abu Sayyaf is doing. I saw this 16 years ago in the Middle East, when talking to an Arab couple a few days after the April 23, 2000 kidnapping of 21 hostages by six Abu Sayyaf bandits in the Malaysia diving island resort of Sipadan. The kidnapping naturally made gruesome world headlines. But in Jordan, where I was leading the Philippine delegation to the 103rd Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference that year, I saw how proudly this Arab man and woman identified themselves with the barbaric hostage-takers.
With my wife Fenny and former Senator Nikki Coseteng, we were touring the “lost city” of Petra, one of the world’s most beautiful archaeological sites, in the southwestern desert of Jordan. There we found tombs and temples carved into the red, white and pink sandstone cliffs by a proud ancient civilization. We were examining the interior of a temple which appears in an Indiana Jones movie, and Nikki, who was an excellent photographer, was taking pictures.
“We are Abu Sayyaf,” said the man.
The couple watched us from nearby. Then the man said, “Where are you from?”
I answered very casually, “Philippines.”
With wide-eyed excitement and a triumphant voice, he said, “Philippines! Ah, Abu Sayyaf! I am Abu Sayyaf! We are Abu Sayyaf!” He appeared to relish the sound of the word, which I assumed he clearly understood to mean, “Protector of the Sword.” I thought that the bandits at home were being regarded as heroes in that part of the world.
I was disturbed, but pretended not to hear; with our English-speaking Arab guide, who did not say a word, we made haste to end our tour and drove back to Amman.
Encircling the Abu
From the last several months of the Aquino administration to the present, 10 or so military battalions were said to have been dispatched to Sulu to neutralize the bandits. They had been successfully encircled, we were told, and the only way out for them was the Sulu sea, which had no chance of parting for them like the Red Sea did for God’s chosen people under Moses.
But before the sword could drop, the ASG decided to “punish” the “Punisher” and move the eye of the storm not only to the President’s own hometown but also dangerously close to Marco Polo hotel where he usually holds court in the evenings. The bomb attack on Friday rewrote the theme and trend of the first 60 days of the President’s six years.
In its report on the bombing, the Sydney Morning Herald said, “the deadly bomb that ripped through the hometown of President Duterte late on Friday is the first violent challenge to his ‘shock and awe’ style rule that has exposed deep fissures in Philippine society and tossed a political hand grenade into Asian politics.”
Turning anger into sympathy and back again
Perhaps the more accurate report is that the act of terror swept away much of the antagonism and anger that had piled up since the war on drugs began and replaced it with expressions of sympathy for the families of the victims and solidarity with the people and government of the Philippines.
This was precisely what we heard from the European Union, France, Japan, the US and Britain, where so much criticism about extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs had been heard before the bombing. This was what we expected DU30 to hear from the dignitaries he would be meeting in Vientiane this week on the sidelines of the Asean summit. St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is instructive, there is good in everything—omnia in bonum.
This tragedy is good for the soul. Adversity, suffering, pain are great teachers. DU30 will come out of it a much better man, a much better leader. It will teach him to speak more the language of humanity rather than the language of power. This was my original hope until DU30, in a pre-departure interview, reportedly called Obama, without any provocation, the “son of a whore.” Sympathy may have reverted to disdain all over again.
Proposed Obama-DU30 meeting dims
From Hangzhou, where Obama was attending the G20 summit, the US President cast doubts on his proposed meeting with DU30 in Vientiane. He called DU30 a “colorful guy” but indicated misgivings about the value of any meeting with the former mayor of Davao, who seems to talk more than he should each time he faces the camera and the microphone.
DU30’s war on drugs is not a simple problem. His fight against the ASG and possibly ISIS is infinitely less simple. He will need to work with the international community and the nation’s closest allies in many areas where his government, or any other government for that matter, cannot do things alone. He does not have to bow and scrape before Obama, Xi Jinping or Putin, but he does not have to abuse anyone verbally either. Especially since we are not at war with any of them, and we need friends more than enemies, in fighting our own domestic wars and solving our own petty troubles.
Erratum: In my column on Tuesday, the name of Thomas Becket appears twice in one sentence, first as Archbishop of Canterbury martyred in 1170 under Henry II and then as Lord Chancellor England martyred in 1535 under Henry VIII. St. Thomas More was the Lord Chancellor.