Why I supported Martial Law at first — and now question it

In matters of national security, I find it prudent to defer to people who know better than me. I am the farthest from a military man, and so I harbor no pretense of telling them what to do.

I understand how the massacre in Maguindanao created a crisis of epic proportions. But in my opinion it went beyond the morality tale that the media has simplified it into — irresponsibly, if I may add — and is now more so a political crisis for the current administration who has been in bed for far too long with these men, and a security crisis where there exists a clear and present danger for violence to break out and disrupt the province in a profound, cataclysmic way.

The only analysis point I would like to offer everyone is this — the situation is by no means a mere case of ‘law enforcement’. The Ampatuans are the law in Maguindanao. Bringing these murderers (say that word with all the righteous indignation you can muster!) to justice was never going to be simple. Last week I read a report of the beleaguered governor’s private army (read: army) surrounding him to protect him from unwarranted arrest. Then I breathed a sigh of relief that the President has declared Martial Law. For me it was a far more gentler alternative to all-out civil war. (Although now it seems like a mere prelude to it.)

A recent report from ABS-CBN’s “Boto-Patrollers” has dug up a precious quote: ““Dalawa lang ang puwedeng pagpilian ng mga kritiko: martial law ng mga Ampatuan o martial law ng gobyerno.” (“The critics have only two choices: martial law under the Ampatuan or martial law under the government.”) Sad when you think about it.

I’m also the farthest from a supporter of Madame President for the simple reason that she has never really resonated with me. However, I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt that despite all the hanky-panky she has done in the past, she would not declare Martial Law recklessly given our sordid history with the term and with the whole world watching. MLQ3 is right; it is the last post-EDSA taboo she had left to break.

I understand all the conspiracies and doomsday scenarios. However, I am not yet in a position to take them seriously. I am still convinced (and hopeful) that the elections next year will push through no matter what. With the way the political winds are blowing through the world now (Change! Yes, we can!), an unpopular president such as PGMA simply cannot afford to curtail democracy even further by preempting its most sacred ritual. (The leaders of Iran tried to; now their downfall is a matter of time.) Even I, most probably, will be up in arms.

Wait, bad pun.

However, things have changed. After reading Madame President’s report to Congress, I am now skeptical.

Not judging the capability or expertise of our military men and reacting solely to the document that details the premises our President have used to declare Martial Law in Maguindanao, I find the case to be flimsy, speculative, and weak.

The report offers details not too different from what we’ve already seen reported in the media. The only place where we can see the logic (if you can call it that) they used to justify that a rebellion was in the offing is in the 20th of 20 pages, written in a manner that seemingly desperately tries to form a link between their premises and their aims.

Simply, their case is this: a massacre has been committed, the Ampatuans have been implicated, and a cache of weapons and false vehicles have been found. Ergo, a rebellion is in the offing. Yes, they allude to movement of armed and lawless men, and the shutdown of government. But that’s it. No further details. I would have wanted to see more names, details, and flash points.

The last time the world turned on a premise this flimsy was when a country (which we shall not name) justified their attack on Iraq by linking Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden.

That said, our government has just declared Martial Law on the basis of non sequitur — at least that is the impression I get from reading the President’s report.

I demand greater transparency. Accountability. I want our President to explain her case not to Congress but to the people. I don’t expect her to resonate with me but I’d appreciate her willingness to try. Otherwise, my voice will join the chorus of those who demand not just that the Supreme Court revokes Martial Law, but that the President steps down.

Because if Martial Law will be imposed on loose sand such as this, then it will be unsustainable.

If she declared it to project an aura of state control and power, she has done so in the short-term but no farther than that. The ejection of the Ampatuan from Maguindanao will leave open a power vacuum which — under Martial Law — government forces will continue to occupy. In the near-term they will have to weed out the armed elements loyal to the Ampatuan and win back civilians who have benefited from their dynastic hegemony. In the long-term they will have to establish institutions that can stand on their own and facilitate a clean transfer of power.

I feel that this will be unsustainable since warlord enclaves exist and flourish in different parts of the Philippines. Martial Law is political poison, and as a tool it cannot become our government’s defining strategy in ousting these warlords and stabilizing regions. We don’t have the ample government resources to stage such a campaign — isn’t that why they went to bed with these warlords in the first place?

The way out of this political impasse is a complicated one, and I would love to share my thoughts in a future entry. Suffice to say, reliance on warlords can be broken by genuine socio-economic development that builds healthy societies from the ground up. But that is a democratic project that will require time, patience, and a virtuous leader who can get things done.

Yet insofar as the declaration of Martial Law goes, I now have serious questions about it. While I am not a big fan of digging up old fears, I am an advocate of being cautious for the future.

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