POSTSCRIPT / April 21, 2020 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Martial Law coming? Duterte’s not dumb!

SOCIAL media has been sizzling lately with wild talk that President Duterte is poised to declare martial law before the April 30 end of the Luzon lockdown to buttress measures to tame the rampaging coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Reports of an alleged plan to declare martial law at this time should be dismissed as there are no legal and factual bases for such an extreme action. Duterte may have gone to school scoring many grades of “75”, according to his own account, but he is not that dumb.

This 1972 product of the College of Law of San Beda cannot be unaware of Article VII of the Constitution which says: “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….”

We have not seen nor heard of any authentic rebellion going on. As for an invasion, there is no need for that since communist China – in our opinion the only potential aggressor in the region — has virtually captured these fair islands already without firing a shot.

On that point, China reportedly has just established new districts under its local government of Sansha on Hainan island to tighten control over the South China Sea, where the Philippines and other neighbors have overlapping claims. (Paging the foreign office!)

Re martial law, sources said they expect a “more enhanced” lockdown described in Tagalog as “lalo pang pinaigting.” They added that the choice is between an enhanced lockdown or the selective (area-by-area or stage-by-stage) lifting of the quarantine before funds run out.

For sure, Duterte knows that he does not need martial law, nor the excuse of a rebellion or an invasion, to consolidate power and be able to do what he wants. Why would he unnecessarily fan the COVID-ignited bushfire of public unrest when the situation is still controllable?

Note that the Congress had approved with lightning speed his request for special authority to tap unused funds in the national budget to finance the fight against the unseen virus that leapfrogged from China to the rest of the world, infecting at least 2,403,380 people and killing 165,658 as of yesterday.

Duterte does not need martial law to tighten his control. Watch how many members of 18 million poor families line up for his food rations. See how docile many of those who lost their livelihood have become, jumping at every offer of government aid.

On the flip side, there are many disadvantaged victims in the fringes who dare to take risks and defy quarantine rules to be able to provide for their families — thereby earning the tag “pasaway” (hard-headed).

The economic gap between them and their better-off neighbors could generate social friction if the government fails soon enough to restart the economy, revive people’s productivity, and produce a cure and a vaccine (two different items) for CORVID-19.

Martial law rumors gained traction with the leakage over the weekend of a Philippine Air Force document advising its personnel to prepare for any order of the President to perform their “martial law-type” role in enforcing the enhanced quarantine.

Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, armed forces spokesman, confirmed the existence of the document dated April 17 but explained that it was an internal memo that should not cause alarm.

Advising all personnel to “prepare for strict implementation of extensive enhanced community quarantine,” the document cited “PRRD’s (the President’s) latest pronouncement on the “martial law-type role of AFP/PNP” as in-charge of movements along roads and highways.

In a televised speech on Thursday, the President warned that he might impose a “martial law-like” lockdown in view of open violations of quarantine rules. The AFP and the PNP promptly prepared for action.

But Arevalo said there was nothing to worry about the armed forces (and its partner the national police) taking the initiative of preparing their personnel on the rules of engagement. He added that there was still no order for them to deploy.

Quarantine violators described as “pasaway” have been criticized by those who would rather follow the rules without question. Those who insist on going out and joining crowds despite the quarantine explained, however, that they have to look after the needs of their families.

With productivity down, the billions being spent to feed and shelter millions of displaced Filipinos would run out if the plague lasts longer or resurges. Duterte said he would borrow more billions or sell public assets to maintain the subsidy.

As we write this, media colleague Jose Cortez emailed us: “More than 700 doctors and nurses are now victims of COVID-19-DoH. Totally avoidable if government leaders were a bit more compassionate, speedier in actions and less opportunistic by using the deadly coronavirus as an excuse to concentrate funds and power on a cabal of tyrants posing as nationalists.

“Let me say this now: Fascism is not nationalism. To quote the late Sen. Jose W. Diokno, ‘Nationalism is anti-imperialism and anti-fascism. Tyrants should stay in history’s garbage bin.’”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 21, 2020)

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