Martial law and Christmas: Countdown in September

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MAURO GIA SAMONTE

SIMULTANEOUS with this writing, the so-called “Ber” months begin. September is the first in a straight series of months with names ending in a “ber,” thus after September, come October, November and December.

Like August, September is still wet, but it is distinct as well for the wintry air characteristic of the yuletide season. The Ber months, therefore, connote cold, a climate instantly evoked in fact by the alliterative quality of their name endings, “ber,” in relation to the popular tonal description of cold, “brrr.”

So accordingly, as the Ber months progress, the shivers that are “brrr” increase.

Before long, the old, familiar strains of Christmas carols will be filling the air all over the nation, including Mindanao where though Muslims seem to dominate culturally, Christians are far superior in number. Until today, folks, mostly young ones, have carried on this tradition from “Pastores a Belen” in the Spanish colonial period, intermixed with American Christmas ditties as “Jingle Bells” and “The First Noel” when it was the turn for the country to suffer the multi-faceted aggression (political, economic, cultural) of US imperialism, and finally the relatively modernized version called “kumbancheros” of the contemporary period. It is delightful to witness carolers accompanying their songs with improvised musical instruments, like flattened tin softdrinks bottle caps (tansan in the vernacular) strung on a piece of wire to produce the sound of castanets and tambourines; sardine cans made to simulate a guitar, with the groves, plucked with a piece of steel like a nail, serving as guitar strings; and a contraption made of a bamboo pole set erect on an empty gasoline container from which is stretched a piece of nylon cord to the top end of the bamboo pole which is plucked to produce the sound of a bass.

Grim forebodings
Meantime, at least in metropolises, Christmas lanterns made from capiz shells already become prominent, displayed for sale in all sorts of shops and stalls; they now make for nights of many-colored splendor.

But limited to September, Ber months bring grim forebodings. Friday the 1stshould start a countdown to martial law, given a visible pattern in Philippine history. Two September 22s were dates of declaration of martial law in the Philippines. The first was in 1944, when in the face of bombardment all over the country by the returning Americans, then President Jose P. Laurel was forced to declare it, although he had held back on it for long already. And the second was in 1972 when President Ferdinand E. Marcos realized martial law was the only deterrent to the increasing leftist rebellion.

So on the tenet that history tends to repeat itself time and again, there appears the possibility, nay probability, that a third September 22 is afoot for the declaration of martial law in the Philippines.

And why probability?

On May 23, 2017, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao to contain the perceived spread of Islamist terrorism on the island, as demonstrated that day by the takeover of Marawi City by combined forces of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups. And on a number of occasions, the President has expressed his readiness to declare martial law nationwide if things got worse so that he should do so.

Until this writing, the Marawi crisis has not been ended, no matter the claims by the military that the entirety of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups have abandoned Marawi, leaving a handful of reportedly ISIS elements carrying on the fight. No timetable has been set by the Philippine government for ending the crisis.

Meantime, there appears to be a resurgence of the notorious Duterte killing machine that is the campaign against the illegal drugs trade. Two recent killings that have jolted the media was that of Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog of OzamizCity, and 17-year-old student Kian Loyd de los Santos of Caloocan City whose murder in the hands of policemen was caught live on CCTV.

Grip of fear loosening
The killing of the student has particularly sparked widespread protests. Throngs of people poured out into the streets, demanding an end to extrajudicial killings. The Senate, hitherto perceived as a close ally of the President, conducted an investigation.

Human rights lawyer and chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno believes the “grip of fear is loosening” in regard to the President’s continuously escalating war on drugs.

“Public opinion is changing, people are more willing to speak out,” he says. “As more abuses come to light, more will oppose it in public.”

Even President Duterte has made a public declaration condemning the De los Santos slay.

But Diokno has this to say: “Politicians in the Philippines are like those anywhere, they are sensitive to public opinion. (Now) they sense a change in public opinion and that explains to me why the senators agreed to a hearing.”

Does not that explain as well the President’s now expressed apparent change in attitude toward extrajudicial killing?

But most importantly, people are getting bolder and bolder in going public about their criticism of the President’s war on drugs. If allowed to “worsen,” this development can surely lead to upheavals such as what ultimately prompted Marcos to declare martial law in 1972.

I can remember a 17-year-old student from the Feati whose skull was cracked by a pill box bomb lobbed at him by an unknown assailant. The death of that boy—I am grappling with my memory for his name—was a battle cry for the upsurge of the National Democratic Movement that led to the declaration of the Marcos Martial Law.

Might not the current spate of extra-judicial killings form part of that “get worse” scenario already defined by the President as “reason” for his declaration of martial law nationwide?

Mournful countdown
In fact, for all his admission of having failed, as he promised during the 2016 presidential campaign, in solving the problem of crime and violence during the first six months of his administration, President Duterte can very well seize upon that failure as the outright reason for ultimately declaring martial law in this period.

Sort of saying, “Hey, crime and violence are so grabe ordinary presidential powers have gone ineffective against them. Martial law is necessary to protect my people and save my country.”

Thus, while people generally have begun the countdown to Christmas which is 116 days away, that’s in happy anticipation of the yuletide joy.

For the mournful countdown, it’s one day down today, 21 days to go.

And, oh, almost forgot. Friday the 1st or 9/1 reminds us to add one more 1 to the figure to make it 9/11. We all know, of course, that that’s the day in 2001 that the New York Twin Towers were bombed reportedly by Islamic jihadists.

Good heavens, that’s a far shorter countdown.

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