Martial Law: Another Opportunity to Unite the Philippines Squandered

The recent situation in Mariwi City is an awful thing to happen and will result in many more deaths – something the Philippines has suffered no shortage of in the last year.

It is often at a time of national crisis where real leadership shines through and citizens can put their differences and unite behind a common goal. Even if only for a short period of time.  So far there is no sign of unity at all, and the leadership are not the ones who will promote it.

Martial Law has Arrived

The declaration of martial law may well be a necessary one to solve the immediate problem. This is something being laboured over by many other news sites and it is not what I want to focus on. What I do want to talk about though is how the declaration is being handled and why it is stinks of yet another shortcut.

Today there is even talk of bypassing the congressional hearing  to approve the declaration. Even if it is a formality that it will be approved, following the correct process as set out in the constitution is an important measure of how far this declaration could go.

Duterte already sees the constitution as an inconvenience and if he is not held accountable to it then this little martial law test in the isolated southern island, may grow into something long term that will affect everyone in the country.

These are the things that perpetuate the division in the country. Many people just want the result and will support every short cut that the government is willing to take. There is no thought to how the Philippines could end up at the end of such a treacherous road.

On the other side of the division are those who distrust where this is heading and want the full picture – but know they will not get it.

I guess you should also identity a third group of political foes who will not support any initiative on its merits. This group is irrelevant to this discussion, but they still warrant a mention.

Is there Room for Logic and Reason?

This must be frustrating for those who do not care about the politics of it all. Those who only want a better way forward for the country. There is no room for discussion on improvement – you are either with the government or against it.

Martial law may be necessary, but it comes with risks. Enormous risks that are all too familiar for many in the country.  Duterte has given assurances that there will be no abuses under martial law, but he said the same about the drug war and we have seen many instances of innocents killed, police abusing power, and general incompetence leading to the suffering of others. So he is in no position to give such a guarantee.

Those who just want the best for the country would want to know how he will make sure there are no abuses. Will there be any independent oversight, and would they have any power to stop abuses? Quite clearly there is none at this time. If there was, would anyone pay attention? The secret cell incident with the PNP would again indicate that nothing would be done anyway.

The other big black hole in the action taken so far is the lack of information on the purpose of the declaration, and the plan of action to complete it. After much reading, I have not seen anything regarding a specific goal, or timeline to achieve an objective. This gives me the impression that it will be an indefinite declaration – 60 days will come and go very quickly.

To further my own skepticism of the declaration is the flippant comments by the president that he may expand to Visayas and Luzon. We have not even established yet what the plan is for Mindanao and he has his eye on the rest of the nation.

Will the carrot dangling in front of him be too great to resist? Martial law has been part of the discussion from day one for dealing with the drug problem. There has been limited accountability so far for good police work, making it official by removing the need to have any proof to arrest someone is dangerous territory for everyone. That is where I think we are heading, but I do hope that I am proven wrong.


Normalising Martial Law

Something I have commented on when discussing the Filipino workplace is that you can implement pretty much any change you like, as long as you do it slowly enough for it to be adopted as normal. Filipinos adapt to their surroundings very well.

This declaration I think will bring the concept of Martial Law closer to the every dialogue in the news, and between friends and family. After a while the stigma of the Marcos years may just wash away as people convince themselves that it is the way forward.

Is this the Change People Expected?

I hope that Martial Law is not expanded due to another terror incident. That would be a tragedy for the Philippines in a lot of ways and could lead to the country being a no go zone for foreign tourists and business. That will hurt the people for decades – plus the immediate pain of more dead civilians.

This idea that change is coming I think is going to get worse before it gets better. I have felt this way for a long time and events are unfolding almost like a script. I mean, is anyone genuinely surprised that this has happened?

The action taken may well prove to be the right call, but for now there are too many loose ends for anyone to make that judgment. Anyone who is arguing the point of right or wrong is essentially guessing.

When you have a President who is as impulsive as Duterte you have to ask yourself whether this was a knee jerk reaction, or something that was inevitable and in planning for a long time. The catalyst was going to come sooner or later with the extremist presence a constant for the last 50 years.

Would either scenario make you feel better or worse about the declaration?

The Useless Online Battle

The only thing sadder than the things happening in Mariwi these last few days is just how horrible so many (internet) Filipinos continue to be to each other at a time that could be the start of a long term national crisis. People continue to try and one up each other and spout useless political bullshit.

As people dig their heels in to their opposing political camps they should keep three things in mind:

1. No matter which side you are on, you are not going to change the mind of the other person.

2. Pressure to do a better job can actually make a difference. Pressure to simply say something is right or wrong will rarely change anything and only leads to political branding, further division and pointless arguing.

3. Politics is a dirty game. Anyone who is a career politician will have done plenty of awful things in their time to get where they are. It is worth remembering this before having blind faith in any politician. 

PS – For everyone who is arguing whether this whole thing was staged by the government to justify Martial Law, or by the yellows to destabilise the government. Remember that this week there was a failed attempt to legislate where people place their phones while driving. Different levels of sophistication don’t you think?

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