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Duterte’s martial law: Risky but bold, required move

PRESIDENT Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao is certainly a very risky political move, that the Yellows are probably celebrating it.

It would bolster the false narrative they have been weaving that Duterte is the new Marcos, and that as he purportedly has demonstrated in his war against illegal drugs, he has little regard for human rights. The liberal Western media will pounce on Duterte and portray him as a strongman on the way to installing an authoritarian regime.

The biggest risk of martial law, as happened during Marcos’ Martial Law, is that soldiers, when told that civilian rule on the ground is suspended, and facing death in combat, tend to let their basest instincts run amuck, resulting in heinous crimes against civilians. The Armed Forces leadership must etch in the mind of every soldier that martial law doesn’t suspend the law nor the military’s accountability.

One big failure actually of the Marcos regime, and of the Armed Forces Chief of Staff at the time, Gen. Romeo Espino, and the Philippine Constabulary Chief Fidel Ramos, was that they hardly publicized the fact that about 3,000 military personnel were dismissed as a result of complaints from their civilian victims.

A strong and clear signal from these top military leaders that military abuses will be severely punished would have made military scalawags think twice before committing crimes against civilians. I haven’t seen any report though that a military man was imprisoned during martial law for committing crimes against the civilian population.

The Manila Times’ front page yesterday inadvertently pointing to the twin threats to the Republic: Armed groups in Muslim Mindanao and the NPA

Unfortunately, while intended to bolster troops’ morale, Duterte’s statement that he alone would be responsible for anything soldiers did during martial law, and his joke that this would include rapes, send the opposite of the necessary signal he should be sending to the troops.

Troops’ accountability
He must instead emphasize to his troops that they cannot escape accountability for any abuses they commit, and that these in fact would severely damage his own legitimacy, and defeat his purpose of declaring martial law in Mindanao. He must speak in Dutertespeak, like telling them in Filipino: “I’ll hang you by the balls if you abuse civilians.”

Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao—after less than a year in office—and the risks such a move entails underlines this President’s determination to defend the integrity of the Republic. If any of his rivals had won the presidency last year, each one would have put as his or her priority his or her own political survival, and therefore shirk form undertaking such a risky move.

The best way to appreciate Duterte’s move is to understand that a state’s primordial duty is to ensure its existence, which requires that any threat to its existence posed by armed groups must be swiftly and decisively ended.

This is the reason why one of the most important characteristics of a state, as political scientists have pointed out, is that it is the only entity that has the legitimate authority to use force. And only a sovereign state can have an army.

A state is also defined as the entity that has absolute supreme authority within the boundary of its territory, “one that makes its own actions without the approval of a higher authority”.

But how can it do this if it cannot enforce its authority and laws, which requires at the end of the day the use of violence? In fact this is the reason why the bloodiest wars in recent history were civil wars—in China, Vietnam, Korea, and even Spain —in which one group competes with another to win absolute authority over a territory. Even the purported font of democratic values, the US, fought a bloody civil war to defend the integrity of its Union.

Maute terrorists
For a group like the Maute terrorists to profess allegiance to an external power, the IS, and to claim a part of the Philippines as their own, is a very serious threat to our state, and must be exterminated immediately with the full might of our armed forces. Martial law suspends the normal processes of ensuring the rights of civilians, mainly the right to trial in a speedy manner. It is in essence the deployment of the state’s armed power to defend its existence.

The most important reason for the continuing violence in Muslim Mindanao is that there has been a historical tradition among the Muslims in that region denying allegiance to the Philippine state, that only the state can have an army. This tradition has resulted in small armed groups of clans, to kidnap-for-ransom gangs such as the Abu Sayyaf to a huge army such as that of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao in 2009 and the Mamasapano slaughter of 44 elite police troops in 2015 are demonstrations of the fact that Muslim Mindanao has remained out of our Republic’s sovereignty. The survival of the New People’s Army for four decades now is not due to its ideology or vision for the Philippines but to the fact that it has replaced the state with an army in miniature form in the country’s hinterlands.

Duterte is merely undertaking his sworn duty as head of this Republic by imposing martial law in Mindanao. The Constitution requires him to do it.

It should have been undertaken more than decade ago when it became obvious that the MILF and the NPA really wouldn’t lay down their arms and couldn’t be defeated in the normal processes of purely civilian rule.