Albert Francis E. Domingo, MD

my flight of ideas

Making Martial Law Sexy

Posted on | December 7, 2009 | No Comments

If at the start of reading this your eyebrow is already raised at the seeming irreverence of placing the words “Martial Law” and “Sexy” in the same phrase, then I trust that neither shall you find the prevailing situation in Maguindanao, Philippines any more comfortable.

Human and Car Bodies BuriedThe November 23, 2009 gruesome gangland-style mass execution of fifty seven (57) civilians that took place in Ampatuan, Maguindanao Province in the Southern Philippines generated so much public outcry both locally and internationally that Malacañang Palace here in Manila had no choice but to act swiftly, lest it be accused (as it has been) of coddling primary suspects belonging to the Municipality’s namesake clan.

There clearly is nothing sexy with what happened. Esmael Mangudadatu, Jr. – whose wife was one of the many victims, had this to say:

My wife’s private parts were slashed four times, after which they fired a bullet into it. They speared both of her eyes, shot both her breasts, cut off her feet, fired into her mouth. I could not begin to describe the manner by which they treated her.

Throughout the days that followed, the State’s executive machinery was jump-started into prosecutorial motion – somewhat with a figuratively rusty clanking of gears that were never used for their intended purpose. Allegations of the Executive being the prime suspect’s protector were bolstered by the statement of Cabinet Undersecretary/Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo that “It doesn’t mean that [the Ampatuans] are no longer our friends, if ever they indeed committed the crime.”

After some hustling and bustling that even had the Press Secretary receiving the primary suspect upon the latter’s surrender, all the while in the presence of the Justice Secretary (as compared to common criminals who are bloodied by the public and then unceremoniously presented on the 6 o’clock news), it appeared to be the case that the government was being given a hard time to perform its functions.

PP 1959 read by Exec Sec ErmitaHence, Martial Law in Maguindanao was declared (by Proclamation No. 1959) deep in the night of Friday, December 4, 2009. No more than two days later on Sunday, December 6, 2009, the Executive submitted its report to the Legislative branch of Government, as required in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Commentaries – both from legal scholars and non-scholars – have pointed out that as a result of the Philippines’ Martial Law experience under the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, the framers of the Constitution intentionally made it difficult under the 1987 Constitution for the President to exercise this power of hers as the Commander-in-Chief of the Military.

While criticism of the proclamation has also included potshots at laughable flaws such as typographical errors, the more serious challenges actually filed in the Supreme Court have been anchored on disputing the factual bases by which Martial Law was declared. Under the 1987 Constitution, Martial Law may only be imposed by the President where there is invasion or rebellion. The former denotes the invasion of Philippine territory by foreign enemies; the latter is technically a combination of all of the following: 1) a public uprising, 2) taking up arms, and 3) the intention to overthrow Government or to defeat its operation. For the obvious reason that no foreign army is marching into Philippine territory in a hostile fashion, the petitions filed in court challenging the factual bases of Proclamation 1959 thus seek to disprove the existence of an actual rebellion. For if there is no factual basis (either invasion or rebellion), then the Proclamation (and hence, Martial Law in Maguindanao) must fail.

UP Alyansa's Call for JusticeCuriously, the public is at a quandary as to how to go about the issue.

On the one hand is the deafening public outcry that falls short of calling for the blood of the suspects, but does not go ahead with that radical a claim as to defeat the purpose of raging against the violence of the massacre.

On the other hand however is a skeptic treatment of everything that emanates from the desk of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for notwithstanding her Constitutionally-guaranteed presumption of innocence until proven guilty in court for the various accusations hurled against her, she does not exactly enjoy high approval ratings at the moment.

Thirty seven (37) years ago when Marcos did declare Martial Law, he used as factual basis the existence of an imminent rebellion – which was then allowed as basis back then for the 1935 Constitution included that option as factual basis (which the 1987 Constitution no longer does). That may have been close to four decades ago, but what is quite alarming is that history seems to be repeating itself. Because Marcos gradually and systematically laid down the foundation for a full-scale declaration of his Martial Law, there was no surprise to speak of. TIME Magazine in its October 2, 1972 take on the matter observed:

It was a drastic step; martial law had never before been imposed in the Philippines, despite the country’s long history of social and political violence. And yet, though troops took up positions all over Manila, there were few other visible signs of emergency. Nightclubs, casinos and movie theaters remained open; shoppers were out in their usual numbers the next day. Filipinos accepted the measures calmly, even cynically, for they had been widely anticipated.

There lies not much difference with 1972’s Marcosian Martial Law as to what is happening today. Because of the public outcry for swift justice by way of speedy arrests of the perpetrators on the background of an Election year, Martial Law circa 2009 seems to have been made sexy and hence more palatable, in that it is being projected as the gun-wielding and suave hero sent to set things right.

Ferdinand E. MarcosMarcos said Martial Law is the solution to quell the NPA’s rebellion; GMA has been peddling the same power as her way of dispensing justice for the fallen (and to quell the Ampatuan’s alleged rebellion, on the side). The public is effectively being confused with the “it’s either you’re with us or against us” mentality – commentators against Martial Law (both in 1972 and 2009) have been openly branded as in cahoots with the villain.

Will Filipinos be able to see things clearly without the biases inherent in either side of for or against? The next few days shall tell.

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