BUDAPEST: I had hoped not to have to write about President Rodrigo Duterte for the next few days, while attending the 11th World Congress of Families and the Global Forum for Political Leaders at the Hungarian Parliament here in Budapest, both of which get underway today. But DU30 managed to remain the center of attention after he declared martial law in Mindanao while visiting Moscow. He had arrived at the Russian capital on Tuesday for a four-day state visit, but had to cut it short after members of the so-called Maute group reportedly occupied parts of Marawi City in Mindanao, torching the cathedral and holding a priest and several parishioners hostage. He left Moscow after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and arrived in Davao on Wednesday evening.
The news reporting on the proclamation has been rather spotty, and it has not been possible for me, from here and at this point, to have a complete picture of what’s happening in Mindanao and DU30’s response to it. For instance, I have not seen a copy of the martial law proclamation, which now includes the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao, according to DU30’s statement upon his return from Moscow. Nor have I read anything about DU30 reporting in person or in writing to the Congress within 48 hours from the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of the writ. Nor has there been any elaborate explanation of the basis of the proclamation and the suspension.
What the Constitution says
Under the Constitution, the President shall be the commander in chief of all the armed forces, and he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. Last September, he signed a proclamation of national emergency in order to suppress lawless violence. Now, in case of rebellion or invasion, when the public safety requires it, the President may for a period not exceeding 60 days place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law, or suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. But the two houses of Congress meeting in joint session and voting as one within 48 hours after the proclamation may, by a simple majority vote of all its members, revoke the proclamation or suspension, and the President may not set aside the act of Congress.
The communist rebellion, which originally prompted the declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1972, remains active despite the end of the Cold War and the dismantling of international communism as an ideology. But because of the on-and-off peace negotiations and ceasefire agreement with the government, and the actual presence of communist members in the DU30 Cabinet, the rebellion no longer seems a threat to public safety and may no longer be invoked as a ground for martial law or the suspension of the writ.
The same applies to the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which now constitutes the biggest armed Moro dissident group, but which is similarly supposed to be in the process of negotiating a peaceful settlement with the DU30 government. On the other hand, the Maute “rebellion” is a recent phenomenon. Although supposed to be infected with the Islamic State (IS) virus, the group’s presence is limited to Marawi City only. This raises the question of whether the earlier proclamation to suppress lawless violence, which has not been lifted, was not sufficient to contain the Mautes, or in case it was not, whether it was necessary to include the whole of Mindanao within the coverage of the proclamation.
Why all of Mindanao, not just Marawi
This is a legitimate question, and it is being raised by a number of people, including some of DU30’s avowed supporters. But it is easily answered by the argument that since the anti-government forces are mobile, limiting the coverage of the proclamation to Marawi City would simply allow the Mautes to seek sanctuary in the neighboring provinces of Mindanao. So, if martial law were to be the answer, then declaring it in the whole of Mindanao, rather than in Marawi alone, would not be indefensible. The more difficult question to answer though is, why DU30 had been talking of proclaiming martial law in Mindanao even before the Mautes’ alleged atrocities in Marawi? This raises the suspicion that what is happening in Marawi is part of a deliberate design on the part of the government.
DU30 says his martial law in Mindanao would be like that of Marcos in the entire country from 1972 to 1981, except that he would be harsh. His conduct of the war on drugs leaves us no doubt that he could indeed be very harsh, if he promises to be so. But there may be very little to compare his proclamation with that of Marcos. First of all, the Marcos proclamation was clearly an extraordinary response to an extraordinary situation, and the government put in a lot of work before issuing the proclamation. As secretary of public information at the time, it took me nearly an hour to read the text of Proclamation 1081 to the nation.
Where’s the legal proclamation?
In contrast, we don’t even know what kind of legal document DU30 signed to proclaim martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ. Spokesman Ernesto Abella, who was traveling with DU30 in Moscow, simply announced, without any lengthy whereases, that DU30 had proclaimed martial law in Mindanao. And DU30 elaborated on it, upon his return, by saying that he had also suspended the privilege of the writ in the same area. Yet, if he fails to report to Congress within 48 hours from the proclamation, the proclamation would be in total violation of the Constitution.
And now he is quoted as saying he would like to extend the coverage of martial law and the suspension of the writ into the Visayas and, probably, Luzon, beyond the authorized period of 60 days. The Constitution provides that upon the President’s initiative, the Congress may extend the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the writ after 60 days, for a period to be determined by Congress, if the invasion or rebellion should persist and public safety requires it.
But for the President to be talking about it a day after the proclamation tends to encourage DU30’s critics to speculate that he had fully intended all this to unfold, and that he still has got something more up his sleeve.
Some security analysts suggest that instead of focusing attention solely on Marawi, important though that may be, the nation should worry more about the recent bombings in Quiapo, right at the heart of the nation’s capital. Not only have these incidents produced sizeable casualties, they have above all demonstrated that certain forces within the city have gained the capability to make bombs, which makes an urban insurrection a distinct possibility. Could this be part of what the planners of violence and anarchy have in store for the country?
Will the Supreme Court intervene?
No one has petitioned the Supreme Court to review the sufficiency of the factual basis for the proclamation and suspension. But this cannot be discounted, given the many voices that have been raised against it, and the high court is mandated to rule on it within 30 days from its filing. Marcos’s proclamation was opposed before the Supreme Court, so was Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s short-lived proclamation in September 2009, which she promptly lifted.
More than that, the political noise against DU30’s wanting to exercise even greater control of the government, which he already controls without any organized opposition, is bound to rise to higher levels. Among the first to denounce DU30 for “going beyond the threats and theatrics” of the past months is the Communist Party of the Philippines, which is represented in the Cabinet by at least four central committee members, led by Cabinet Secretary cum National Democratic Front vice chairman Leoncio Evasco Jr., whom many refer to as the “de facto President” of the Philippines.
Evasco has organized the communist-oriented Kilusang Pagbabago (Movement for Change) and its grassroots arm, “Masa Masid,” purportedly to fast-track the establishment of a communist “revolutionary government.” To the best of our knowledge, Evasco remains determined to pursue that objective. But the recent appointment of some retired military generals to the Cabinet has given rise to speculations that DU30 may have decided to change gears and pursue a “revolutionary government” with the help of the Right rather than the Left.
A shift to the Right?
Against the four communist members of the Cabinet and others at lower levels, led by Evasco, and including Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, Social Welfare Judy Taguiwalo, and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd (though he is more of a communist sympathizer than a card-carrying communist), DU30 has now named four former top military officials as part of his inner core—Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, a former defense attache at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C.; National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, a retired former AFP chief of staff; Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, a retired former chief of staff; and Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, the most recently retired AFP chief of staff.
This tends to create an even numerical balance between the Right and the Left inside the Cabinet. Many feel this could still end up in favor of the Right, should Taguiwalo’s confirmation problem at the Commission on Appointments go unresolved, and she ends up being sacrificed to oligarchic interests, like the former environment secretary nominee, Gina Lopez. This shift in the Cabinet has allowed DU30 to joke aloud that the military generals permis him to consider running a “military junta” if he likes. But nobody is laughing. Many seem to tremble in mortal fear that martial law in Mindanao is but a foot in the door.