Never again, never ever

MANILA, Philippines–Today, 36 years ago, Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law. More accurately, Proclamation 1081—the edict declaring martial law, though dated Sept. 21, 1972—was actually signed by Marcos and enforced on the evening of the day after, Sept. 22.

Immediate effects of martial law. To implement Proclamation 1081, Marcos promulgated General Order No. 1 in which, he, as “Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces … assume(d) all powers of government and place(d) all agencies and instrumentalities of the government under (his) direction and control.” With the support of the military, he took sole command of the nation as its dictator.

Both houses of Congress were abolished and Marcos ruled the country by means of decrees. The judiciary remained opened but lost its independence because General Order No. 3 removed from the courts the power to rule on all cases contesting the validity of 1081 or any order issued pursuant to the proclamation. In short, the rule of law vanished and the rule by law of one man began.

Mass media—television, radio and newspapers—were seized. Only those run by the government and by Marcos’ cronies, like the now defunct Daily Express, were allowed to operate. Mass actions, demonstrations and rallies were prohibited. Curfew was imposed and foreign travel for Filipinos banned.

Because the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus (the writ) was suspended, anyone could be detained indefinitely. The courts were powerless to require the government to release a detainee, much less to justify the reasons for the detention. Thus, on that dark night of Sept. 22, opposition stalwarts like Ninoy Aquino, Jose Diokno, Francisco Rodrigo and Ramon Mitra Jr., as well as media personalities like Joaquin Roces, Teodoro Locsin Sr., Maximo Soliven and Amando Doronila, were all arrested and detained indefinitely without bail.

According to Marcos, there were two reasons for martial law, the Muslim rebellion in the South and the New People’s Army (NPA) insurgency in the North. To the opposition, however, there was only one explanation: Marcos’ desire to retain power beyond the expiration of his last term on Dec. 30, 1973. While in power, Marcos could not be held accountable for the many violations of human rights committed under his regime and could not be prosecuted for his accumulation of ill-gotten wealth.

Toothless martial law. Because of the lessons learned from our martial law experience and the indefinite suspension of the writ, the present Constitution—which was crafted after Marcos was overthrown during the bloodless Edsa revolution in 1986—tried to defang martial law and to limit severely the grounds for suspending the writ.

Thus, under the current Charter, martial law may be proclaimed and the writ suspended only on two grounds—invasion and rebellion; and only for a maximum of 60 days. Martial law does not stop the operation of the Constitution or Congress or the courts. In fact, the chief executive is required, within 48 hours, to report the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of the writ to Congress, which may revoke such action by majority vote of all its members “voting jointly.”

In turn, the Supreme Court may review the factual basis of the proclamation and/or the suspension. It “must promulgate its decision thereon within 30 days.” No person could be indefinitely detained because the Constitution requires the release of those arrested “in three days,” unless they are lawfully charged in court within that period.

Due to these severe restrictions, martial law is said to be “toothless” now. The drafters of the Charter wanted to make sure that it would be used in good faith, solely to defend the country from a real “invasion” or “rebellion,” and that no president could misuse it or suspend the writ to advance a personal agenda like term extension.

However, I see a big loophole. Because of their desire to simplify the lifting of martial law by requiring only a majority vote of all lawmakers, voting jointly, to revoke its imposition, the drafters may have made it equally easy for a scheming President to have martial law extended indefinitely by the same easy-to-secure vote. Hence, a President that controls Congress can still misuse “toothless” martial law. And a compliant Supreme Court could find excuses to uphold rule by law.

Emergency rule worse. In any event, the current talk initiated by former Defense Secretary Avelino J. Cruz is on “emergency rule.” Although the end game is the same, i.e., one-person rule to retain power, the means to be used would no longer be dressed-up martial law; it would be the naked iron fist of emergency rule.

Martial law, Philippine style—insisted Marcos’ was not wayward; it was “constitutional authoritarianism” imposed in accordance with the 1935 Constitution. And legitimized further by the 1973 Charter that the compliant Marcos Supreme Court ruled to have been validly ratified during “citizens’ assemblies.” This legal hocus-pocus assured Marcos of international recognition and the support of the military, until 1986 when his constitutional façade crumbled.

On the other hand, being lawless and totally devoid of constitutional basis, emergency rule cannot obtain international legitimacy. Even the military cannot justify a regime that wobbles outside the very document that hails the armed forces as “the protector of the people and the State.” Neither can it enjoy the support of our people.

Never again to martial law. Never ever to emergency rule.

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