IN this third instance of a Filipino President proclaiming martial law in the country, Filipinos should be familiar by now with the definitive characteristics of martial law, so it may be assumed that the emergency measure has gotten everyone’s undivided attention. We all want to know what is happening and what will happen next.
Presidents do not resort to martial law unless the circumstances compel its declaration. The window for implementing martial law is narrow and limited; government must act and meet a deadline to get the job done.
In the current emergency, the clock started ticking immediately after President Duterte issued from abroad the presidential proclamation declaring a state of martial law in all of Mindanao. It will not stop ticking until the 60-day period for review of the proclamation by the Congress is over, and until Congress says that it concurs in or questions the basis for the proclamation.
There is a second review allowed by law, and that is a judicial review of the martial-law proclamation should a citizen file a petition for a review by the Supreme Court of the sufficiency of the basis for the proclamation. This is an innovative provision unique to the Philippines, invented by the Cory-appointed and Marcos-haunted constitutional commission of 1986.
Today, with a third of the country living under martial law, we think that it will be politically and socially useful, if government and the citizenry both look upon this period as a time of testing for the Constitution and for everyone. It will be salutary and stabilizing if during this time of review, we Filipinos are able to prove our political maturity as a people—with government, the military and the citizenry all rising to their tasks according to law and obligation.
This test of maturity naturally begins with President Duterte, who issued the proclamation, and who now must prove that by this historic action, government can subdue the challenge of the Maute rebel group and its allies and sympathizers, secure the peace in our communities in Mindanao, and protect our citizens in the South from the dangers of Islamic terrorism and rebellion.
It will be reassuring if the President will seize the opportunity to mute his tendency to use martial law as a weapon to intimidate opponents and critics. In a real conflict situation, scary talk does not usually cause enemies to give up the fight. Far more effective is a show by government of firmness and resolve to vanquish all challenges to the state.
The test is, second, for the military and police forces, who have been called by the President “to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion.” Both the AFP and the PNP must move with sureness and resolve to decisively eliminate the danger.
The test, third, should find both houses of Congress capable of discharging their responsibility to review the President’s proclamation and judge whether with the justifications he offers, the measure merits congressional support. When the proclamation was first announced by the media, the first thought of several senators and representatives was to concoct ways of getting publicity. It will be a step toward maturity if our legislators will learn to focus their attention on evaluating soberly and without partisanship the reasons advanced by the President for declaring martial law.
The maturity test is also for the citizens, who should be able to show support for the President’s action, or dissent from it, with the welfare of the nation and of the people as their concern first and last.
Finally, we do not spare the media from this maturity test. We in the media should be able to do a better job in reporting the implementation of martial law, and in analyzing the actions of government and our security forces. The broadcast networks must do a better job in selecting whom to interview and how to interview during the emergency situation.
The fact is the situation in Mindanao today is a challenge for the government and our security forces. It will not be easy to return the situation to normal. There is the danger that the situation could explode into something more perilous for the nation and the people.
The soundest way to cope with the emergency situation is to deal with it according to the law, and in line with our respective responsibilities.