There is one thing Duterte is consistent about, his obsession for absolute rule and his aversion to checks and balances, the Constitution and rule of law. “Until the police and the armed forces say the Philippines is safe, this martial law will continue. I will not listen to others. The Supreme Court, Congress, they are not here,” Duterte told soldiers in Jolo, last Saturday, May 27.
Before this latest revelation of his autocratic passion, Duterte, last May 26, spoke before Philippine Army soldiers in Iligan City and exhorted them to support his martial law. He impressed on the soldiers that under his martial law, with the privilege of writ of habeas corpus suspended, soldiers are vested with the power to arrest without warrant and the privilege of not having to account before the law.
To stress his muddled view of the power of soldiers to make “warrantless arrest”, which directly contradicts an earlier statement from the government’s information agency explaining martial law, Duterte assured soldiers that he would be responsible for abuses committed by them. To drive his point, Duterte came out with one of the marks of his notoriety by telling the soldiers that if anyone of them “raped three women”, he would claim responsibility for it.
Though how much his spokesperson tried to make a “post-speech editing”, the rape “joke” reveals Duterte’s utter disrespect and contempt for women. It was also an insult to soldiers, particularly women soldiers, who are in their right senses.
In the pursuit of his passion for dictatorial rule, Duterte most recently boasted before soldiers that he would ignore the Supreme Court and Congress if they exercise their constitutional powers to revoke or rule against the declaration of martial law. He was trying to cajole soldiers by saying he’d rather listen to them at same time contemptuously describing justices of the SC and all those critical of him, as people who do not know the “real conditions” of the troops on the ground. This was a not so subtle attempt to drive a wedge between the military, the courts and the legislature.
In both instances, with soldiers and their officers who were obliged to stand before their commander-in-chief, Duterte was insinuating power grab - of solely exercising power in a regime where he will be the law. He had hinted at it before. Even before his inaugural as President, he warned Congress not to question nor hinder his plans, lest he would close it by declaring martial law. He also threatened Chief Justice Sereno with martial law when the CJ asserted the court’s supervision over judges in Duterte’s drug list. In his “war on drugs” he likewise called on the police forces to kill, kill, kill and gave assurances that he will protect them from prosecution. He is more direct now, after he has declared martial law in Mindanao, and seems to be getting away with it.
That he delivered those messages to the men and women in uniform is deliberate. Duterte knows that the power grab he is contemplating requires the unequivocal support of the military. In the face of Constitutional restrictions on the martial law powers of the presidency, the power grab can only be through a “coup from the center.” He thus seeks to cajole the soldiers and officers with the power of being above the law; agitate them to disregard the laws and the Constitution; instil in them the culture of obeisance and blind loyalty only to him, their commander-in-chief and lord, who given the power, would protect them against reprisals for whatever criminal acts they may perpetrate against the people in their compliance with his orders.
The martial law Duterte is promoting is contrary to the Constitution, the provisions on restrictions on presidential powers on declaring martial law, which he openly criticizes and seeks to be removed. It is contrary to the assurances his apologists have been dishing out since he declared martial law in the whole of Mindanao on May 23.
Duterte minced no words in saying his martial law will be ruthless, brutal, and merciless. It will know no bounds, other than the bond between him and the security forces that he is trying to build as his own. Duterte himself spares no effort to express it. He said military rule under him will be no different from Marcos’ martial law. It will be harsh. It will be atrocious, as Marcos dictatorial rule was.
Duterte is calibrating martial law, to cover only Mindanao for now and for only 60 days, as allowed by the Constitution. It is obviously designed to avoid widespread opposition, pending the success of what he has embarked on since he took office and especially in the last one week since he declared martial law in the whole of Mindanao. He seeks to seal the bond between him and the state security forces on an obsession for the exercise of sheer power by those who wield the gun and to rule with impunity.
While his objective is clear, Duterte’s acts are tempered by real-politik. He moves in measured steps towards his goal as allowed by exigencies, real or not --- emergency powers solve the “traffic crisis”, state of lawlessness in Mindanao and state of national emergency and martial law in the whole of Mindanao, in less than a year of his 6- year term. While saying that he will be “happy” if the terrorist threat is solved in less than 60 days, he has said that his martial law should be in one year at least but should even “sign of terrorist threat appears in other parts of the country”, he would declare martial law in the whole country in no time.
Duterte has so far succeeded in letting loose the Philippine National Police (PNP) and his Department of (in)Justice in a rampage against judicial processes and due process. He yet has to win over and utilize the whole of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for his power grab. The AFP, a vital institution, for Duterte’s desired martial law, until recently, has been adamant in its assessment that there is no basis for declaring martial law.
Just yesterday afternoon (May 30), it was revealed by opposition senators that Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, in a closed-door briefing, on May 29, admitted, “the Maute group can be contained even without martial law”; the military and DND “did not recommend martial law”; and, that they just learned that Duterte has declared martial law and thus, “were obliged to implement it”.
There is no disclaimer from DND Sec. Lorenzana as of this writing. It can be recalled, just before the announcement of martial law declaration, Lorenzana and National Security Adviser, Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. told media in Moscow, the military was in “full control” of the situation in Marawi City. Also, just two hours after the proclamation of martial law in Mindanao, the AFP announced, the situation in Marawi is “under control”.
To deny these facts and to grant Duterte has good intention in his martial law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao is to reject his dubious and record. To be blind to the reality that he has grabbed on every opportunity, from the time before his inauguration president, to assume more power than allowed by the Constitution – the drug problem, “lawlessness”, terrorism and recently, the events in Marawi City . To grant that his good intention at making a “hill out of a mole” outweighs his pronouncements and actions that have caused violations of human rights as in thousands of victims of extra-judicial killing in the name of fighting criminality and the drug menace.
“The road to hell is paved good intentions”. Marcos justified his dictatorial rule with the promise and intent of making this nation great again. The outcome was exactly the opposite. It plunged the country into the darkest years in its history. Hitler justified Nazism to the German people with a promise and declared intent to make Germany great again. It is now recorded as among the most gruesome crimes against humanity in human history and left a legacy of national guilt among the German people. History indeed is replete with tyrants’ promises of heaven only to lead whole nations to hell.
Similarly, Duterte justifies his iron-fist rule with promises of and intent for peace and order and security for the people. As in all tyrannical regimes, Duterte’s rule can only lead to the people’s doom.
The truth about Duterte’s rule is now fast unravelling, and foreboding of what awaits the nation if Duterte succeeds in his quest for dictatorial rule. Injustice is widespread, as thousands of mostly poor suspects and bystanders are summarily killed and dissenters are threatened, while the biggest plunderers and crime lords are scot-free. Peace will not be achieved without justice. “Order” enforced by suppression is order that serves tyrant’s whims. There can be no sense of security in an environment where security forces can arbitrarily search one’s person, domicile and work place, effect one’s arrest, or worse, put an end to one’s life, without having to establish, through duly established processes, the just basis for such. Worse, when members of armed state security forces can flagrantly violate one’s person, as in cases of rape, and rights to life, as in summary killings, are guaranteed immunity from suit and reprisal.
NO WAY! Democracy, the people’s fundamental rights and freedom - cannot be traded for promises of peace, order and security. No one must be allowed to toy with our freedoms under pretext of whatever problems the country is facing. Indeed, the country has multifarious problems – terrorism, criminality, drug addiction, prostitution, graft and corruption, insurgency – rooted on existing social conditions and relations, and thus requiring more comprehensive and systematic solutions, rather than taking away or curtailing the rights of people.
Duterte’s obsession for absolute power is further reason to be alarmed. Duterte’s record, both as mayor of Davao City and in nearly one year as the country’s president, most especially in recent days, speaks eloquently and leaves a clear mark on the type of ruler he is and can be.
The argument of giving him the benefit of the doubt in his declaration of martial law does not hold water. Duterte is clearly working for a power grab - extra powers beyond what was accruing him in his election, as a plurality President, and diminution of the regulatory powers of co-equal branches of government and disregard for the rule of law.
Duterte’s lust for extra powers must be stopped before he successfully infects and corrupts the armed men and women in uniform. And he must be decisively stopped now. If allowed by their dereliction of Constitutional duties, the “leaders” of both houses of Congress are giving Duterte free hand to do away with the constitution and with Congress itself as what Fe4rdinand Marcos, Sr. did 45 years ago.
More than ever, the reasonable section of the men and women in uniform who are aware of their duties to respect and protect the people’s rights and lives must see through Duterte’s ploy and enticements of unfettered power for them. They must stop his mad drive to make them tools against the people, against the laws, against freedom and democracy.
Officials in the legislature and judiciary, who have not been blinded by the glimmer of momentary personal or party gain, must likewise act decisively to stop Duterte’s attempt to grab power before it is too late for them to assert and defend the power of the legislature and the judiciary.
More importantly, the Filipino people who will be denied of rights and security well- being, and whatever has been gained in their assertion of sovereignty, must muster the strength that can only emanate from the concerted exercise of collective will to defend democracy. They can call on their children, siblings, and friends, in the military and police, and in the legislature and the judiciary to put the interest of the people above all else.
Every voice, every warm body, counts in this struggle to assert democracy and resist tyranny. Let’s use every available form, and every available forum to register our resistance to martial law NOW.
Never again to martial law!
People’s Campaign Against Tyranny
May 31, 2017