“Prepare to fight another dictator” – battle lines drawn over martial law comments

Patriotic Filipinos “should start preparing to fight another dictator”, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV warned today (Monday, January 16) following Duterte’s latest comments on martial law.

Sonny Trillanes

Former Navy officer Trillanes, who led two coup attempts against President Gloria Arroyo, said: “Soldiers should also start reviewing their constitutional mandate.”

Speaking in Davao City on Saturday, (see our report here) Duterte said: “If I wanted to, and it will deteriorate into something really very virulent, I will declare martial law.

“No one can stop me,” he added, referring to the Supreme Court and Congress. “My country transcends everything else, even the limitations”.

Following his statements, presidential spokesman Martin Andanar moved to allay fears, reminding reporters that Duterte had previously ruled out such a move. Confusingly, he also accused the press of “irresponsible journalism” for reporting his recorded statement word for word, without clarifying that the president didn’t mean what the words he used meant.

He has also been defended by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who said: “It was just an expression of anger from the president. He was exasperated by the continuous illegal drug operations in the country despite intensified efforts by the government.

“The public and the media should not be surprised and rather be already accustomed to this mindset of the President.”

A similar point was made by Senator Ralph Recto, who said: “His bluster should be likened to a dog that always barks but seldom bites.

“This thing about martial law should be filed under outlandish threats like riding a Jetski to the Spratlys, or feeding the fish of Manila Bay with bodies of salvage victims.”

While playing down the threat of martial law, he clearly expressed his opposition to it, saying: “There is no basis to declare martial law. Rebellion has been tamed. No foreign army is steaming towards our shores to invade us. And as the president himself likes to brag, crime is down.

“And as to the real enemies of the people – joblessness, hunger, poor social services – these cannot by suppressed by the armed forces.”

The lawmaker also stressed that martial law was a “cure worse than the perceived disease”. He said: “At a time when we project stability to reel in tourists and investors, a martial law declaration will show the opposite, of how unstable we are. We do not burn the house down to kill a few rats.”

Army spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla also said it would be unnecessary. Speaking at a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo today, he said: “Right now, we are not recommending any kind of martial rule… We are able to operate and catch all the people who have been perpetrating violence and we are operating within the bounds of law.”

However, national police chief Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa — who recently declared the war on drugs was being won — said he would support any decision to make the declaration.

He said that it was the prerogative of Duterte as chief executive to declare martial law if needed, but he added that it was unlikely. Speaking in a mix of English and Filipino, he said: “One hundred one percent, by all means, we will support the president if he declares, pero I doubt kung magde-declare siya,”

Senator Manny Pacquiao was also supportive of the president, saying he would only act with the people’s welfare in mind. “If he declares martial law, if it’s for the benefit of the Filipino people, why not?

Sarangani Lone District Representative Manny Pacquiao cropped

“The president is not after his own interests,” he said. “I know him. He is only after the good of the people and order in society. He does not want people getting abused.

“Whatever decision Duterte makes, I will support it. I watch the news and I see the people. Can you imagine, there is already a massive campaign against illegal drugs and yet there are still hard-headed people who won’t stop? If we allow this to continue, the innocent would be victimised.”

A Pulse Asia survey taken from December 6 to 11 last year, found that 74 percent of respondents rejected any return of martial rule.

The country last endured martial law during the 20-year rule of Ferdinand Marcos, who was accused of plundering billions of dollars from state coffers and overseeing widespread human rights abuses.

Marcos declared martial law in 1972, invoking the threats of crime and a communist insurgency, and lifted it in 1981. His rule ended in 1986, when millions took to the streets in the “People Power” revolt. A new constitution was drawn up in 1987 to avoid another dictatorship.

This constitution limits martial law to just 60 days, and only in cases of invasion or rebellion or when the public safety requires it. Within 48 hours of the president’s declaration, he or she is required to submit a report to Congress, which may then revoke martial law. The Supreme Court may also review the factual basis for martial law should a private citizen file a complaint in court.