THE framers of the 1987 Constitution have done a very good job in enshrining in it more than enough fetters to confine martial law to what has become—a limited instrument for the state to protect itself.
While the President can declare martial law, he can only do so on two grounds: invasion and rebellion. And if he does, he cannot use martial law to abolish the Constitution, dissolve Congress and supplant civilian courts with military courts.
Declaring martial law also does not automatically suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. He has to invoke such suspension of the writ separately, and here the President’s power is again bound by the Constitution. He can only do so on acts that are related to invasion and rebellion, and only when the suspect is judicially charged. Only then can people be arrested without the proper warrants.
The power of the President to declare martial law on limited grounds is also not absolute, for it can be revoked by Congress by the vote of a mere majority of its members in joint session, or by the Supreme Court that is required to act swiftly on any petition brought before it, questioning the President’s grounds for issuing the martial law declaration.
For all intents and purposes, the 1987 Constitution has practically neutered martial law and removed the possibility that it can be used by the President to perpetuate his power. In fact, it can be initially declared only for a period of at most 60 days, and can only be extended upon the consent of Congress.
Thus, it behooves one to ask why people like Christian Monsod, who was one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, and would have been instrumental in imposing such restrictions, now oppose martial law on the basis that it can be abused. Is Monsod saying that he himself doubts the efficacy and potency of the Constitution, and of an institutional arrangement, which he helped in crafting? Is he saying that the safeguards which they built into the Constitution are not enough?
A deeper and closer look would reveal that the arguments of those who oppose the declaration of martial law in Mindanao are based not on rational or legal grounds, but on irrational fear and extreme prejudice.
Irrational fear is fueled by a failure to go beyond the narratives and painful memories of the Marcos brand of martial law.
The fear is so irrationally embedded that it is even able to negate the more compelling need to secure the safety of the Republic from the threat of terrorism, a 21st century scourge the causes and dynamics of which have not been adequately theorized about nor fully understood.
One has to confront the painful imagery of some Filipinos who could easily commiserate with Paris when it was attacked through hashtag activism, and did not mind the declaration of a state of emergency in France, which is its equivalent of martial law, yet could focus their energies on demonizing a similar declaration by the President not even in the whole country but only in Mindanao.
And you begin to realize that it is no longer just fear, but also extreme prejudice not only against the President but against our institutions. Critics had no problem granting the French government the maturity not to abuse the grant of emergency powers, even as they would not grant the same benefit of the doubt to a President that they associate with state brutality. They are also willing to grant French institutions the maturity to check for abuses, and doubt our own to do the same, notwithstanding the excessively strong fetters which the 1987 Constitution already have.
I find fear and prejudice to be rooted to our inability to rectify the one-sided capture by a particular cohort of the elites of our national narrative. For a long time, we have allowed the discourse of the so-called “elite victims” of Martial Law to have the monopoly in writing our history and in commanding our political institutions.
We have not challenged the discourses of anti-martial law scholars and writers who controlled the writing and teaching of historical and popular narratives of the period. Any attempt to do so was dismissed as pro-Marcos historical revisionism.
In the domain of our political institutions, we have allowed the oligarchs displaced by Martial Law to control our politics and economy, to the exclusion of the outsiders whom they treated with extreme prejudice, and they never accorded respect, like Erap Estrada, and now President Rodrigo Duterte. They arrogated upon themselves the monopoly for virtue and kept us believing that anything other than them is a Marcos reincarnate.
Thus, our national conversation is now being held hostage by irrational fear and extreme prejudice. We have people opposing Martial Law even without a clear understanding of our Constitution and who don’t know where Marawi City is. And we have people who are extremely prejudiced against the President and the politics he represents.
No one is denying the people who suffered from Martial Law—the one that Marcos had declared—the right to remember their pain. And no one is denying them their right to remind us of its horrors, and to alert us to be vigilant so that we will not suffer the same.
But they do not have a right to hold hostage our future and our security.