A devout and gentle friend has suggested that I lock up my laptop, look for a crevice in a rock somewhere, where (like a sea gull) I could bury my head while the storm blows, for a storm (he says) is coming, which would be quite nasty to everyone who believed in freedom. Grave dangers are coming, he says—the Church would be persecuted, social and political institutions crushed, the media suppressed, journalists jailed or killed “while resisting arrest,” or assassinated by a newly organized corps of assassins. Beside this new Reign of Terror, the brutality of the drug war would be like child’s play; you’d be wishing all we had was the state killing machine that exterminated the small fry in the slums and in slippers, but never touched the big guys.
Out of respect for my friend, I had to tremble a little. But I instantly felt ashamed of myself. How could I? I have survived storms, floods, shipwrecks and tremblors, defied thugs on the campaign trail, disarmed goons without recourse to force or violence. I have taught my children what my parents had taught me, never to be afraid of anything that threatens harm to the body but not the soul. If I cut my tongue now, whose tongue will the tyrant cut when the time for cutting tongues comes? If I flee my country now, what will my grandchildren say when their friends start talking of their grandfathers?
But my friend said the new Terror would unleash evils we have not seen before. I thought this was pure exaggeration, except that I could not surmise the limits of his exaggeration. Then I heard the President speak. This was Monday morning. I was being interviewed by TV host Howie Severino on GMA-7, when a tape was played of DU30’s speech last Saturday before the Davao City Chamber of Commerce. I could not believe what I was hearing.
As usual, the President was talking of his “war” on drugs, which has already killed over 6,200 suspects. The marching orders of the police are to “neutralize” all illegal drug personalities, and the police and the so-called “vigilantes” are doing all the killings. It isn’t at all like in Mexico or Colombia, where the drug cartels are armed to the teeth and engage government troops in gun battles. Bato de la Rosa’s troops are in no apparent danger of being pushed back by a superior counter-force of drug runners. It is a one-sided war. It could become “virulent,” as the President puts it, but only because of the extra-judicial killings, not because the drug lords would now come out in the open and inflict untold casualties on the police and the civilian population.
DU30’s idea of duty
But this is not how the President puts it. “I have to protect the Filipino people,” he told his Davao audience. It was his latest double-speak. “It’s my duty. And I tell you now, if I have to declare martial law, I will declare it. Not about invasion, insurrection, not about danger. I will declare martial law to preserve my nation, period. Wala akong pakialam diyan sa Supreme Court. (I don’t care about the Supreme Court.) Because the right to preserve one’s life, and my nation, my country transcends everything else, even the limitations…Walang makapipigil sa akin—walang invasion, invasion. (Nothing can stop me—no such thing as invasion, invasion.)”
This was certainly a mouthful. And the press dutifully and correctly reported it. But apparently realizing DU30 had exceeded himself, Malacañang accused the press of “misreporting” what the President had said. Chimed in Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar: “We…decry the latest misreporting that the President will declare martial law simply ‘if he wants to’ or that ‘no one can stop the President from declaring martial law.’ Such headlines sow panic and confusion to many. We consider this kind of reportage as the height of journalistic irresponsibility.”
To this, a rejoinder from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said it was Andanar’s principal—- DU30—-who was sowing panic and confusion to the public. Bull’s eye.
From the Senate, Minority Leader Ralph Recto dismissed DU30’s statement as mere bluster, without any constitutional basis and therefore not to be taken seriously. This was a breath of fresh air from the sterile, soporific and stagnant Senate. One hopes that with this statement, Ralph Recto has decided to step into the shoes of his revered patriarch, the late Senator Claro Mayo Recto, one of the greatest Filipinos that ever graced the Senate, a name worthier than that of many presidents.
Both Ralph’s analysis and prescription are correct. Like a country bumpkin who tries to impress his uneducated listeners with his big talk, DU30 is probably best ignored. But he occupies the highest seat of power in the land and claims the biggest media time and space for his profanities. How can the sensational and shallow mass media, which have all but forgotten the art and value of enterprise reporting and prefer to be spoon fed with political garbage from the cheapest source, ignore the zaniest things the President says? Is organized avoidance of DU30 even remotely possible?
What the press can do
In the golden age of Philippine journalism, when patriots and intellectuals manned the ramparts of the Fourth Estate, newspapers and newspapermen of note took common positions on public issues and ran joint editorials against political abuses and any perceived official debasement of public mores and cultural values. Is such an idea even remotely possible today, when obscenity has become a national currency and the most widely self-advertised proponent of the cheapest morality is anointed as the official guardian of morality in the entertainment world, and none of the sensitive organs of taste and thought are disturbed?
More to the point, after only six months, during which DU30 has turned the entire government into an echo chamber and a rubber stamp, why is he obsessed with the use of extra-constitutional means to control the State? What allows him to believe that he could equate anything he likes to do with “duty” and prescribe any cure he may concoct, even one that’s worse than the disease? The President’s real duty, to which he took a solemn oath when he assumed office, is to “preserve and defend (the) Constitution, execute (the nation’s) laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate (himself) to the service of the Nation.” Has he done all this, and found it not enough to satisfy his thirst for public service? Why is he talking nonsense about martial law?
Let’s quote it once more
For the nth time, I will quote, in full, what the Constitution says when and under what circumstances, and how martial law may be invoked. Sec. 18, Article VII provides:
“The President shall be the 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 sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law. Within forty-eight hours from the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the President shall submit the report in person or in writing to the Congress. The Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its Members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President. Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.
“The Congress, if not in session, shall within twenty-four hours following such proclamation or suspension, convene in accordance with its rules without need of a call.
“The Supreme Court may review, in an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen, the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ or the extension thereof, and must promulgate its decision thereon within thirty days from its filing.
“A state of martial law does not suspend the operation of the Constitution, nor supplant the functioning of the civil courts or legislative assemblies, nor authorize the conferment of jurisdiction on military courts and agencies over civilians when civil courts are able to function, nor automatically suspend the privilege of the writ. The suspension of the privilege of the writ shall apply only to persons judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in or directly connected with invasion.
“During the suspension of the privilege of the writ, any person thus arrested or detained shall be judicially charged within three days, otherwise he shall be released.”
A stupid but binding provision
We have to agree with DU30 that this provision emasculates and bastardizes the martial law provision of the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions. It reduces to absurdity the so-called Commander-in-Chief provision of the Constitution. It is absurd to expect the President and Commander-in-Chief to report to Congress, assuming it could still meet in the middle of an invasion or rebellion, when public safety can no longer be guaranteed, and ask Congress to decide whether or not the President and Commander-in-Chief is responding correctly to the situation. It was a group of political innocents under Cory Aquino, who were reacting to the stories about martial law though not to the horrors that had prompted Marcos to declare martial law, that gifted us this perverted “reform.”
We have to rewrite this provision. But the people, who are the real authors of the Constitution, must be the ones to do it. DU30 cannot do it because under the Constitution, he has no role to play in proposing constitutional revisions or amendments. The Congress and the people alone have the right to do so, but it must be a Congress whose members represent the electorate rather than the President. While this provision remains, the President’s duty is to respect and faithfully comply with it. For DU30 to say he will not be governed by it is to say he is prepared to stage a coup against the Constitution, the government and people of the Philippines.
This is exactly what his communist partners are said to be plotting. DU30 must try to extricate himself from it. After six months of petty despotism, his concern should not be how to expand or extend the reach of his extra-constitutional powers. It should be to show that he has a moral, political and social philosophy and a program of government by means of which he can govern the nation well. Despite all the crooked surveys trying to assure him, and the bulk of ignorant and intimidated Filipinos, that a high percentage of unknown people are satisfied with him, we do not see a single reason why that should be, and we have not seen a single program or activity that promises life more than death to most Filipinos.