My Fellow Filipinos

Marawi, in the island of Mindanao, was attacked by the Maute group, which is an ISIS-wannabe in the Southern Philippines. In response, the Philippine Government poured in troops to try to root out the group. Hostages have been reportedly taken and used as human shields by the Maute. Where they proved too well entrenched, attack helicopters came in to pound them into submission, or death. Marawi suffered from the attack that appears to have been compounded by the army’s seemingly scorched earth policy against the attackers. Back in the day, there was a shirt for sale that had the message: “Kill them all. Let God sort them out.” Yesterday is here again.

As if that was not enough, the Government declared martial law on the whole of Mindanao even if the fighting appears to be limited to Marawi. Then worse becomes worst. The president, in exhorting the troops to do all that is necessary to win over the Maute group, quips that if the troops rape anyone in the process, then that will be on him. The president, himself a lawyer and a former prosecutor at that, essentially publicly declared that if the troops commit any crime — like rape — during the campaign to defeat the Maute group in Marawi, then they will not be prosecuted for it.

Flashback to the beginnings of his drug war, and his declaration that any act by the police in pursuit of the drug war will be his responsibility. In essence, he is saying that any crime they may commit during the war on drugs will also not be prosecuted. To date, there are a reported 7,000 deaths related to the drug war. Around 3,000 of these is said to be the result of “legitimate police operations.” The rest are dismissed as random killings. When you read news articles from Al Jazeera and the BBC about how the operations are being conducted with kill quotas and payoffs for every pusher or user killed, then one thinks that while these may actually be police operations, whether or not they are legitimate is far from certain.

Let us be clear, between the criminal and the State, or a terrorist group and the State, we should support the State. Illegal drugs should be prevented from harming citizens, and terror groups should be suppressed. However, how we conduct our wars should also follow the rules laid down in law. When the government begins to wage state terror, the legitimacy of its wars quickly dissipates. We are a nation of laws, and the State should be the first to comply with its demands.

The Philippine experience on martial law was not pleasant. In the end, the abuses of those in power caused a nation to oust a sitting president. The current president declares that his martial law will be as brutal as the old one. If one is knowledgeable enough about how the old martial law was used to abuse the populace, then one cannot readily say that this new martial law will be promising indeed. Far from it.

The newest Philippine constitution — we’ve had three (3) so far — sought to prevent a repetition of this abuse by putting in place the mechanics for the declaration of martial law. It invokes the independence of the legislature to check on the executive. Unfortunately, both houses of congress, peopled as they are mostly by the president’s partymates, supporters, or wannabe-supporters, refuse to convene to study the president’s justification for the declaration of martial law. It is in the refusal of these so-called people’s representatives to do as they are legally obliged that dictators are born.

Article VII of the Philippine Constitution provides that:

“SECTION 18. The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law. Within forty-eight hours from the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the President shall submit a report in person or in writing to the Congress. The Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its Members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President. Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.”

Clearly, the Constitution allows the president to call on the army in case of lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. The attack by the Maute group constitutes lawless violence; hence, the president can direct the armed forces to destroy the Maute group as the commander-in-chief. However, in order to declare martial law, the constitution names only two causes: invasion or rebellion. Moreover, public safety must require it. In other words, it is not enough that there is an invasion or rebellion. The safety of the public must also be in danger before martial law can be declared. If a large Chinese force occupies a few islands in the West Philippine Sea within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone but no Filipinos are endangered, then martial law still cannot be declared. Since the Maute attack cannot be an invasion, it might be seen as a rebellion, which would then justify the declaration. Under the constitution, the president should have reported to Congress within twenty-four hours from the declaration to prove, first, that it is a rebellion, and, second, public safety requires it, that would justify his decision, and Congress may confirm, revoke or extend martial law…but it must convene to receive the report and pass upon said declaration.

As it is, the president gave no report, and Congress refuses to convene. That, my fellow Filipinos, is dangerous. Filipinos should be free to question its government. When the government is closed to scrutiny even from its own citizens, that is authoritarianism. When Congress, a key component for the system of check and balances, fails to act in accordance with law, it allows absolutism by the president, which the Constitution itself is against. The Constitution, therefore, is slowly eroding. That is something we cannot allow.

Patriotism is never blind allegiance. Patriotism puts the country first before personalities, even the president. To challenge the president is not unpatriotic. Adherence to the rule of law, especially the Constitution, the primary law of the land, must be every citizen’s concern. Holding the government to it, must be the primary duty of every Filipino. We do so not because we hate the president but because that is what the law requires. We are all Filipinos. Whether you are from Luzon, Visayas or Mindanao, all of us are Filipinos. We question the declaration not because he is a Mindanawon but because he did so as president, and in doing so is required by law to abide by certain conditions. To test his compliance with law is a very Filipino thing to do.

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