WHAT I feared is coming to pass. In justifying his proclamation of martial law in Mindanao, President Rodrigo Duterte will be hard-pressed to present the evidence, the convincing threat assessment and compelling rationale for declaring martial law and suspending the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao.
DU30 could find himself in the same boat as US President George W. Bush, who in 2003 launched the second Gulf War against Iraq, on the grounds that Saddam Hussein possessed and was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), which could be used against the US and Iraq’s neighbors. Bush failed to get a Congress resolution authorizing force. He asserted that peaceful measures could not disarm Iraq of the weapons he alleged it to have, but nonetheless launched the war on Iraq. Later, with Saddam and Iraq routed, US-led inspections could not find that Iraq had the WMDs.
For an authoritative account of the second Gulf War and the WMD issue, I turn to New Yorker journalist Hendrik Hertzberg, who reported at the scene in Iraq. He wrote in 2004: “It is now clear that Iraq’s biological, chemical, and, most importantly, nuclear weapons did not exist. Public and congressional support for the war, as well as the limited international support it enjoyed, was therefore purchased falsely and, to a degree not yet known, dishonestly. It is clear that there was no connection between Iraq and 9/11. It is clear that apart from the military assault itself, every aspect of the war, from buildup to sequel, has been mismanaged or worse, always on account of arrogance and ideological blindness.
“And yet, it is almost certainly true that the people of Ira, despite the avoidable post-Saddam chaos and the suffering inflicted by insurgency and counter- insurgency are better off without the murderous dictatorship that the coalition overthrew. Saddam Hussain was not just “a bad guy,” he was the head of a regime that was as lethal as Stalin’s to those brushed by its power. How could one not welcome the fall of such a regime?”
Justifying martial law, no cakewalk
Most Filipinos have assumed that justifying the martial law proclamation would be a cakewalk in Congress because the administration majorities in both houses would surely support the President’s action.
With little prodding, the Senate quickly voted to back martial law for the South. In the House, the nation’s representatives went into executive session to listen to a briefing by security and defense officials.
But there’s a big difference between politicians’ votes and facts in making the case for martial law.
In truth, the military briefing was imperative. The case for martial law was far from open and shut. Proclamation 216 itself may not be in good shape.
Complications have turned up that disturb the hunky-dory picture.
It appears that President Duterte issued the momentous proclamation without the recommendation of his national security officials. A day after 216 had already started to shake up the country, the security officials told the media that they had not recommended the declaration of martial law to the President. If they did not, who did? Was martial law all DU30’s doing?
It gets worse.
After Proclamation 216 was submitted to both houses, fact-checkers in the Congress media found major discrepancies and inconsistencies in the President‘s martial law report and the various statements being issued by the military from the war zone. What was supposed to be ineluctable proof for martial law turned out to be shaky and uncertain.
It will get even worse when the martial law review reaches the Supreme Court, where the justices are certain to raise tough questions about the necessity of 216.
Where is Hapilon?
The AFP raised some hope when it reported that materials recovered by the military in Marawi City indicated that the attack of the Maute terror group had been planned even before the government forces launched their operation to arrest Abu Sayyaf subleader Isnilon Hapilon.
AFP Chief Gen. Eduardo Año earlier said that the fighting in Marawi broke out when troops attacked a hideout of Hapilon.
AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla disclosed that the military has recovered high-powered firearms and materials that can be used to construct improvised explosive devices in the area. It also recovered voluminous materials indicating many of the Maute group’s activities prior to the AFP’s entry into the area.
The military has yet to assess and study the recovered materials. According to Padilla, the military has information that Hapilon remains inside Marawi which is why the remaining members of the local terror group continue to protect some areas of the city.
Government forces have regained control of almost 90 percent of Marawi, but the question remains, where is Hapilon?
If he is not found soon, it would be like the US failing to find WMDs.
Fact-checking indicate that the martial law report submitted by the administration to Congress contains erroneous information on some of the incidents that happened in Marawi City that purportedly led to the declaration of martial law in Mindanao last week.
Erroneous claims in ML report
Among the errors and inconsistencies were:
1. The Palace claimed that several establishments, including the Amai Pakpak Medical Center, were taken over by the Maute terrorist group and which held several employees hostage on May 23. APMC chief Amer Saber says the hospital was not overrun by the terrorists. PNP spokesman Dionardo Carlos says the terrorists did not take over the hospital; they just went there to seek medical assistance for a colleague.
2. In the martial law report, Malacañang also claimed that three schools were burned on the night of May 23 by the terrorists. They were identified as Dansalan College Foundation, Benigno Aquino College Foundation and the Marawi Central Elementary Pilot School. But of the three, only Dansalan College was confirmed to have been burned. Assistant Secretary Tonisito Umali of the Department of Education said they have not received any report of damage caused by fire at the Marawi Central Elementary Pilot School.
3. Citing unidentified sources, the martial law report also claimed that five faculty members of Dansalan College were killed when the terrorists occupied the school on May 23. These deaths have not been confirmed.
4. The martial law report also claimed that the Maute group ransacked a branch of Land Bank of the Philippines in Marawi City and commandeered one of its armored vehicles. The bank clarified that the Marawi City branch was not ransacked; it just sustained some damage.
5. Upon his arrival from Russia on May 24, Duterte claimed that the police chief of Malabang town in Lanao del Sur was beheaded by the terrorists. The police chief has surfaced and is still very much alive.
6. Speaking in Moscow on May 23, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana claimed that the Marawi City Hall was among those occupied by the Maute group. In fact, the city hall was never occupied.
The claims that the city hall was occupied, a town police chief was beheaded, and that parts of the MSU were taken over by the Maute group were not specifically mentioned in the martial law report submitted to Congress.
AFP on national security strategy
The loose ends and imprecise information surrounding the martial law proclamation reinforce my belief that the country urgently needs a national security strategy. Having a coherent strategy would have found the military and the nation better prepared for the depredations of the Maute group.
As a result of my research on national security policy, I was pleased to discover that there is an ongoing project now at the AFP General Staff College for the formulation of a comprehensive National Security Strategy (NSS) by the Philippine government.
I found two enlightening papers relating to the NSS:
1. “The need for a national security strategy,” by CDR Emerson C. David PN (GCS)
2. “Understanding the Philippine national security strategy” by LTC Zenaida C. Reyes, PAF (GSC)
Reyes, who holds a master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from Australia, has written a most enlightening paper. She reviews the entire course of Philippine security policy since Commonwealth days. The nation’s Presidents have paid fitful attention to the central importance of national security policy, and especially the need for a national security strategy. We have not kept in step with the world.
Formulating and implementing Philippine national security policy is not an episodic activity but a continual obligation. Congress and the President share in these duties just as they do in domestic and budgetary matters. Congress has a broad constitutional authority to take part in national security decisions.
Members of Congress, though wary of a martial law proclamation, will be reluctant to revoke Proclamation 216. The President, with the backing of the military, has superior knowledge of the circumstances that require martial law. Legislators have no expertise to make a convincing judgment of whether martial law is necessary in specific instances.
I think the consensus view would be like this: let’s allow the President to make the decision, and if it goes well, praise him; and if it does not, criticize him. The President proposes, Congress disposes. This is the principle underpinning our constitutional system.
Proclamation 216 is an exercise by President Duterte of executive authority on a matter of national security.
The review by both chambers of Congress of the proclamation is equally the exercise of a constitutional duty.