PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s swift declaration of martial law in Mindanao Tuesday night, following the terrorist attack in Marawi City, has drawn mixed reactions from the public, with some critics quick to hark back to the abuses committed during the military rule of the Marcos regime.
Duterte’s declaration, however, should not come as a surprise as he had repeatedly threatened to impose martial law on the restive island to suppress terrorism and lawlessness.
His decision to cut short what was supposed to be a four-day visit to Russia should be taken as an indication of the strength of his resolve to accomplish this task.
The declaration is by all means justified given the brazenness of the attack by the Islamic State-linked Maute terrorist group—allegedly in cahoots with the older Abu Sayyaf group—in Marawi, an important center of Islam in Muslim Mindanao.
Reports from Marawi speak of horrors and atrocities committed by these evil forces. Among many acts of violence that have forced residents to flee were the burning of the cathedral of the Catholic prelature in Marawi, the hostaging of a parish priest and his flock, the burning of a college, the raid on a hospital and the beheading of a police chief.
While Marawi is no longer under siege, the perpetrators of the terrorist attack are at large. And there is danger of a spillover to other major Mindanao cities; Davao City is already on lockdown.
The country had been placed under a state of lawless violence following the bombing in Davao City last year. But the checkpoints and heightened security implemented as a result are obviously not enough.
Duterte needs sharper tools to quash Maute, the Abu Sayyaf and other terror groups that have caused rampage for far too long, something previous administrations had failed to do using ordinary legal means.
Maybe in this time of extraordinary circumstances, critics should forego the tendency to impute ill motives on Duterte, and set aside apprehensions related to the dark history of martial rule under Marcos.
The 1987 Constitution has placed safeguards precisely to prevent abuses, and Duterte, a lawyer, knows this very well.
Under the Charter, Duterte must first submit a report to Congress to justify the declaration of martial law, which must then meet in joint session to modify or revoke it. Martial law can only last for 60 days.
Moreover, a martial law declaration does not automatically suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus – the court order compelling authorities to produce suspects and justify their detention. The suspension of the privilege is a separate matter that must also obtain congressional approval.
More important, the Bill of Rights is not suspended and the government functions normally, including the courts.
Martial law will thus be implemented by consensus of the nation’s political leaders, who were elected precisely to perform this constitutional task. There is no going back to the horrors of 1972.
By all indications, Duterte’s martial law will be a tool to attempt a swift solution to a burgeoning problem of internal security. It might yet become the iron fist that finally puts a check on radical terrorism and nips the nefarious Islamic State and its sympathizers in the bud, before they gain a bigger foothold in the country.