[ANALYSIS] The economic fallacies surrounding martial law’s extension

JC Punongbayan
[ANALYSIS] The economic fallacies surrounding martial law’s extension
The greatest danger in the repeated and poorly justified extension of martial law is that it’s a slippery slope to a similar declaration nationwide. Will Congress continue to throw all economic sense out the window?

The list of Duterte’s policies that defy economic sense and logic grows ever longer.

Last December 12, for the third time around, and by overwhelming numbers, Congress extended martial law in Mindanao. This follows the original declaration in May 2017, the first extension in July 2017, and the second extension by Congress in December 2017.

Such extensions, which are turning into an unhealthy habit by Congress, can be strongly assailed on two grounds, both legal and economic.

First, Duterte’s security and military officials told Congress that despite the liberation of Marawi, “rebellion still persists in Mindanao and that the public safety requires the continuation of martial law in the whole of Mindanao.”

However, legal experts in and out of Congress have countered this, saying there’s in fact no continuing rebellion or invasion in Mindanao – the two sole conditions for a declaration of martial law provided by the Constitution.

In this piece, however, we highlight the economic objections to martial law’s extension.

While Duterte and his officials maintain that martial law has contributed to the stability and growth of Mindanao, this is a patently overreaching claim that is not at all supported by – and cannot be concluded from – the economic facts.

Faulty claims

Martial law’s economic impact in Mindanao is now shrouded in a thick haze of faulty claims.

For instance, on December 12, former AFP chief Carlito Galvez proclaimed before Congress that the total output of ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) grew by 4.3% to 7.3% (without caring to say which years these data correspond to).

Meanwhile, in a prior letter to both houses of Congress dated December 6, Duterte said martial law “[ushered] in substantial economic gains in Mindanao,” and that “all of these gains in security and peace and order have resulted in remarkable economic gains” in the region.

Before this, in a press con, Galvez also announced that martial law also supposedly “increased tourist and economic activity in Mindanao, especially in areas previously thought of as inaccessible to visitors from Luzon and Visayas.”

He added that Zamboanga’s “economic standing” – whatever that entails – also supposedly increased from 102 in 2017 to 41 in 2018.

Economic fallacies, galore

These claims reek of poor economic logic.

For starters, while ARMM did grow by 7.3% in 2017, it’s more useful to look at Mindanao’s overall growth. After all, martial law is not just confined to ARMM. Data show that Mindanao in general grew by 6.3% in 2016 and by 7.2% in 2017.

On the face of it, these figures might validate some positive impact of martial law. Yet there’s simply no way to tell.

Just because event Y happened after event X doesn’t mean that X caused Y. This fallacy – also called the “post hoc fallacy” – is pervasive in everyday life.

For example, just because children died after being administered with Dengvaxia doesn’t necessarily mean that the vaccine caused those deaths (as doctors’ investigations later proved).

Similarly, just because Mindanao grew after martial law was declared doesn’t necessarily mean that it was martial law that caused faster growth.

Perhaps the only way to tease out martial law’s true impact is if it were randomly implemented in different regions of Mindanao at different times, while keeping certain areas free from it.

This setup – the closest we can get to a controlled lab experiment – would have made for a promising study. If martial law is extended for another time, they should at least make it this way.

Seriously, though, a closer look at the data reveals agriculture boosted Mindanao’s growth in 2017 (Table 1). Meanwhile, industry and services also grew but at slower paces.

Even with this information, how do we know that martial law was responsible for this agriculture boom? Absent good proof, martial law’s purported economic benefits are but illusory.

Evidence-bereft policymaking

Duterte’s officials also made it appear that the economic gains from martial law extended well into 2018.

But when pressed by Representative Edcel Lagman for any evidence – including income and poverty statistics – Duterte’s men could not produce any and conceded such data have yet to be released.

Sure, this is not the first time we’ve seen this kind of policymaking that’s bereft of any evidence. The closure of Boracay Island was similarly afflicted with recklessness and a lack of proper study. (READ: [OPINION] Enough of policymaking without planning)

But witnessing Congress approve yet another major policy without even a modicum of economic evidence is disturbing nonetheless.

Finally, when Galvez said Zamboanga’s “economic standing” rose from 102 in 2017 to 41 in 2018, he did not care to elaborate.

First, it boggles the mind how Zamboanga’s “economic standing” could have risen 61 notches in just one year.

Second, this miraculous improvement in Zamboanga’s ranking is no justification at all for extending martial law across all of Mindanao.

The “fallacy of composition” tells us that what applies to a part does not necessarily apply to the whole.

Thus, even granting for a moment that martial law did economic wonders for Zamboanga (we don’t know that), this, in itself, does not mean martial law will also do wonders for Mindanao as a whole.

Slippery slope

As far as Duterte is concerned, martial law seems to be an unalloyed boon for Mindanao.

Yet there’s simply no way to conclude this from the available economic data, and the reasoning employed by Duterte and his men is chock-full of inconsistencies.

Even so, Congress did not seem bothered in the least, and still pushed through with their vote.

On the one hand, this extension is hardly surprising. Instead of being evidence-based, policymaking in the country – especially in the current administration – tends to be evidence-bereft. Just think of the senseless war on drugs.

On the other hand, it’s a bit surprising since elections are forthcoming and martial law’s extension in Mindanao goes against the tide of public sentiment: based on a December poll, as many as 66% of Filipinos nationwide saw no need for such extension.

Arguably the greatest danger in the repeated and poorly justified extension of martial law is that it’s a slippery slope to a similar declaration nationwide. If that happens, will Congress continue to throw all economic sense out the window?

At the rate they’re going, they probably would. – Rappler.com


The author is a PhD candidate at the UP School of Economics. His views are independent of the views of his affiliations. Follow JC on Twitter (@jcpunongbayan) and Usapang Econ (usapangecon.com).


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JC Punongbayan

Jan Carlo “JC” Punongbayan, PhD is an assistant professor at the University of the Philippines School of Economics (UPSE). His professional experience includes the Securities and Exchange Commission, the World Bank Office in Manila, the Far Eastern University Public Policy Center, and the National Economic and Development Authority. JC writes a weekly economics column for Rappler.com. He is also co-founder of UsapangEcon.com and co-host of Usapang Econ Podcast.