THE approval by Congress to extend martial law in Mindanao for a year, ending December 2018, deliberated only for four hours despite questionable constitutional parameters, was unprecedented in its speed. Here, the Deegong showed his vaunted “political will” and Congress bowed to it.
Now, if only DU30 could whip his super-majority into converting Congress into a constituent assembly (con-ass), with the same speed, to deliberate on the revisions of the 1987 Constitution, paving the way for a shift from the unitary to a federal system of government, then the Filipino will forever be grateful. Unless the DU30 has been playing with us all along and has “dropped the ball on federalism.” But this is a topic for another column. Meanwhile, back to the extension of martial law in Mindanao.
The past six months of martial law in Mindanao from May 23, 2017 has unsurprisingly gained public support. The SWS survey released last November 10 showed that 54 percent of Filipinos agreed to the extension of martial law until the end of 2017. With this new initiative, the discussions on the constitutional limits have now been enlarged for public view, and if we were to ask Rep. Lagman, this ML declaration is “constitutionally infirm both as to grounds and duration.” The opposition, principally what is left of the Liberal Party, will now have to await relief from a beleaguered Supreme Court.
I can’t fault those opposing martial law as they are reminded of Ferdinand Marcos regime’s making ML synonymous with evil, in contrast to Sen. Koko Pimentel’s description of it as, “benevolent Martial Law,” and the inane remarks of the “pambansang kamao” of martial law being “mas masaya”.
Joining the bandwagon is the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and the Mindanao Business Council (MBC) which cited the extension as “not a major concern” and even expressing their positive support to the government to end terrorism, the underlying reason why ML is needed in Mindanao.
Terrorism, since even before the Twin Towers in New York in 2001, has assumed a different character and has gone international with diffused local leadership, the latest of which is the IS-inspired sacking of Marawi. (Read my Manila Times columns, “Genesis of IS,” November 9, 2017, and “Marawi aftermath,” November 16, 2017.) Although Marawi has been declared liberated, terrorism is not terminated. It is lurking around and seething within as long as the ancient grudges and injustices are not addressed properly and resolved. The terrorists are reinforcing their ranks and recruitment is taking place outside the environs of Marawi City. The threat of terrorism is real enough to imperil public safety.
And these are the main arguments beyond the letter of the law or the Constitution that overarch the need for ML in the hotbed of terrorism, Mindanao. While the defenders of the Constitution argue ML’s unconstitutionality, DU30 looks beyond the formalities of the Constitution and uses his iron fist to ram through his definition of what Article 7, Section 18 means by “…to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion.” I am ambivalent towards ML and the view that it needs an extension of a year as I am confident that the AFP already has the right tools, the motivated soldiery and an excellent leadership to defeat the forces arrayed against it. And more importantly, they are compelled to act within the purview of the Constitution, in contrast to the Marcos ML when they ran havoc and trod upon the rights of those they were sworn to defend.
But the opposition has of late injected another facet to their argument, although without clear proof, that the extension of ML is a precursor to a declaration by PRRD of military rule for the whole country; and that it is the opening gambit to the Deegong’s assumption of despotic rule. Akbayan party list representative Tom Villarin sees the ML extension as a scheme for ramming con-ass through both houses. He might be proven right; after all a constitutional amendment may quell insurgencies in Mindanao.
Villarin’s pronouncements may be a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who have been frustrated by the stasis of government and the unfulfilled election promises blocked by a noisy but irritating minority, especially in the Senate. Martial law in the entire country could break the impasse and overrule the Senate and force the issue on Charter revisions. On the other hand, this assumption is in fact welcomed by the DU30 DDS, zealots and fist pumpers. As gleaned from their social media pronouncements, they are also agitating for an alternative to a legally ticklish revolutionary government that they are enticing the Deegong to declare. House Speaker Alvarez has already telegraphed his acquiescence to the dissolution of both houses.
So, there it is! Instead of revgov, go for a nationwide martial law and force the issue on the constitutional revisions shifting from the unitary to the federal-parliamentary system and delete all anti-FDI provisions, and a host of other constitutional provisions and laws protecting and advancing the interests of the oligarchy.
But the implications are myriad.
First, the viability of martial law for Mindanao for one year is yet to be adjudicated at the Supreme Court with finality, although the odds are in its favor. A more difficult question is an attempt to apply ML to the whole of the country. This will be stretching definitions of preventing and “…suppress(ing) lawless violence, invasion or rebellion…” too far.
Second, how will this be taken by a subservient Congress; will the Deegong’s lap-dogs prevail, or will there be enough independent elective officials to counter what could be the height of impunity? Third, there’s a wild card to this: the CPP/NPA may want to play center stage again as they did during the Marcos regime, now that DU30 has reduced them to irrelevancy. And fourth, the MILF/MNLF which have so far been patiently standing down with their arms at rest. How will they be chalked up into the equation.
And not the least, how will Filipinos react?