A research firm on Friday said a return to dictatorship was highly unlikely in the Philippines even as President Rodrigo Duterte’s repeated threats to impose martial law and to suspend barangay or village elections have heightened political instability.
“Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has warned once again on March 23 that he may impose martial law nationally, and defer local elections across the nation for more than 42,000 districts which were scheduled for October 2017,” said BMI Research, a unit of the Fitch Group, in a report.
The President previously threatened to impose martial law only in Mindanao should local governments fail to address the security situation in the region, but it appears that the scope has been widened to the entire nation, BMI noted.
“Although Duterte’s statement has raised the specter of political instability in the Philippines, we are maintaining the country’s short-term political risk index score at 63.5 (out of 100) for now, as this has already been reflected in the current score, following our previous downgrade,” it said.
BMI also kept it gross domestic product growth forecast for the Philippines unchanged at 6.3 percent for 2017 for the time being, but noted that a nationwide martial law would likely dampen the growth outlook.
“In our view, while the risk of political instability has heightened considerably since President Duterte took office in June 2016, we believe that a return to a dictatorship era seen under former President Ferdinand Marcos is highly unlikely,” it, said.
BMI attributed its view to three reasons.
First, it said, the return to a dictatorship would be highly controversial and opposed by most of the population as seen by the political divide and commotion among the people caused by the Duterte administration’s decision to bury former president Ferdinand Marcos at the Heroes’ Cemetery last November.
“Duterte will likely risk significant popular support and face strong political objection if he attempts to extend his power,” it said.
Second, BMI pointed out that although President Duterte has repeatedly threatened to impose martial law, he has also said that it was unnecessary, suggesting that it would be the last resort.
“Furthermore, his administration is seeking charter change to shift the country’s form of government into a federal system to spread political power and fiscal resources beyond Metro Manila,” it said.
Lastly, BMI stressed that the 1987 Constitution, ratified after the overthrow of the Marcos regime in 1986, has provided a safeguard for the judicial and legislative systems to prevent a repeat of an authoritarian regime.
Citing Section 18 of Article VII of the Constitution, it said the Supreme Court is empowered to review and determine “the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law,” and must announce its decision within 30 days from its filing.
“In addition, the President will need to submit a report to Congress within 48 hours of declaring martial law, and the congress will have the final say in whether to revoke or extend the martial law,” it concluded.