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Martial law – why many are concerned

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Congress has approved the extension of the proclamation of martial law in Mindanao to December 31, 2018. It was originally proclaimed last May 23 when the fighting broke out in Marawi, then extended by Congress to the end of this year. Last December 13, Congress in joint session voted 240-27 for the second extension to the end of 2018.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea summed up President Duterte’s reasons for seeking the extension. He said: “Despite the liberation of Marawi City and the eerie silence in the main battlefield, a state of acual rebellion subsists in Mindanao, perpetrated not only by remnants of the Daesh-inspired Da’watul Islamiyah Wallyatul Masriq (DIWM) but also by other local and foreign terrorist groups, including the New People’s Army, and ready to explode at any time. Public safety requires a further extension of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao, in order to quell the rebellion completely.”

It is indeed true that forces of rebellion have long been at work and remain a threat in various parts of Mindanao. The government has been able to get the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to the negotiating table, but the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Independent Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and Maute Group remnants continue to defy government security forces in remote areas of Mindanao. With the breakdown in peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines, we now add the New People’s Army to these forces of rebellion against the authority of the Philippine government.

Some sectors are concerned, not so much with martial law in Mindanao, as the possibility of its being expanded to the entire country. In many interviews, President Dauterte said he was not discounting this possibility, depending on the seriousness of the threat posed by enemies of the state. The new Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Leonardo Guerrero said the military has projections based only on information now in hand and so he downplayed the possibility of a nationwide martial law “for now.”

Our officials should understand that many who fear martial law are those who experienced the martial law of 1972 which then President Ferdinand Marcos clamped down on the country under the proivisions of the 1935 Constitution. He closed down Congress and proceeded to issue laws himself in the form of presidential decrees. Many were arrested and faced trial in military courts, including opposition leaders like Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Newspapers and broadcast stations were closed down, so that information came to be filtered and many reports of important events were banned altogether.

Martial law was officially lifted in 1981 but repressive and authoritarian governance continued until 1986, when the people rose in the EDSA People Power Revolution. The new 1987 Constitution was written in which martial law as an instrument of government control and authority was severely limited in scope and effectivity. And the people declared, “Never again!”

It is because of his unfortunate episode in the history of our country that so many fear martial law, even if our Constitution today assures it cannot be used to repress freedoms as they once were. Today’s officials should perhaps refrain from using martial law as some kind of threat. They should stress rather that the honest and the innocent need not fear martial law, and that the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution will be staunchly defended and upheld.

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