Stop the bombings, rethink martial law

In a recent speech at the Ateneo, Chief Justice Sereno gave Filipinos a clear explanation of what we agreed upon when the nation ratified the current Constitution in 1987. She makes clear that it is within the rights of the President to declare martial law. But she also makes clear that because the country has suffered from the Marcos period, the framers of our Constitution put extra safeguards to ensure that history would not repeat itself.

She is clear that a repeat of the horrible past depends both upon the vigilance of people and the Duterte administration’s willingness "to take sufficient care to abide by the Constitution and the laws."

The statement made by the President that his martial law will be just like Marcos’ martial law and that it will be “harsh”; his condonation of rape committed by his soldiers (in Mindanao where we have the largest number of Muslims and indigenous peoples); and his statement that he has no intention of obeying the Supreme Court  – are causing more anxiety and resistance. These are in fact sufficient reasons to fear the political vendettas and massive human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship. It contradicts his assurances that martial law is a necessary and judicious act that he undertakes without any thought of perpetuating himself in power.

It also does not help that the President has been threatening us with martial law, long before the troubles in Marawi. This makes it look like this incident has been used as a trigger for something he has always wanted to do. As Konsensya Dabaw notes: “Beginning March 2017, President Duterte has publicly talked about putting in effect martial law in Mindanao in order to ‘finish”’ all its problems.”

Congress fails the nation

In refusing to review he declaration of martial law, Congress has failed the nation.

It is not merely that they are now in violation of their Constitutional duty. Any constitutional expert worth their name will tell you that the Constitution is unequivocal that the President must report to Congress within 48 hours and that Congress must convene in order review the proclamation of martial law.

It is also that the people are divided on this issue and fearful. The review process, if done with integrity would have helped allay people’s fears or could have given critical feedback to the Duterte administration about how to handle the threats in Marawi and Mindanao.

Instead, Congress has shown itself to be overly compliant. A group who have no concept of the checks and balances mandated by the Constitution. They have chosen political expediency over their duty to serve us with integrity. This Congress is so much like the rubber stamp legislatures of the Marcos dictatorship. They are adding to the fear and insecurity instead of helping allay it.

Sacrificing present for future

No one can disagree that deep systematic and structural issues are at the root of the security problems that beset the nation and particularly Mindanao.

People-centered and equitable development of Mindanao are the real and final solutions to these problems. But this cannot be achieved without basic values like respect, tolerance, religious freedoms, freedom of expression and dissent.

The bombings in Marawi and martial law are at cross purposes to these goals.

If Congress and the Duterte administration will not practice restraint then it falls once again to the people to ensure that the rule of law and rights be ensured in this period of fear and anxiety.

The suffering of the people of Marawi and the declaration of martial law in Mindanao are matters of grave national concern. All of us must take the time to be properly informed. We must be able to debate each other and accept political differences.

At the moment the well-being of our nation is at peril and we must rely on each other’s wisdom to ensure the survival of our democracy. –