Philippines: Bloggers Raise Voices Against Martial Law

As the world commemorates International Human Rights Day, Filipino bloggers are eerily reminded of the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo imposed martial law in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao.

According to the Arroyo administration, the declaration of martial law is supposed to preempt a rebellion by the Ampatuan warlord clan, the main suspect in last month's brutal massacre of 57 civilians, including 31 journalists, in Maguindanao. Martial law also aims to speedup the arrest of the Maguindanao massacre perpetrators and restore civilian rule in the province.

However, many do not buy the Arroyo administration's line.

For, martial law is not the solution to the Maguindanao massacre.

Maguindanao Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao Zaldy Ampatuan are already under custody of the government. If the government prosecutors can prove there is a probable cause to keep them and to charge them, the immediate problem may already been solved. The bigger challenge — mounting an air-tight case against them and their cabal — is a task for the investigators and prosecutors.

In a statement posted at Ph101 101 Sections P, Q, R, the Ateneo de Manila University Department of Philosophy Faculty comments:

That the Ampatuan massacre happened at all reveals the weakness of the state and the disregard that our own leaders and peacekeepers have for the rule of law. The continuation of Martial Law in Maguindanao based on shaky grounds does not strengthen the state; it cripples the state further. Instead of countering the politics of impunity with showing that our democratic systems can and do work for the good of the people, the government has chosen to fight impunity with impunity, violence with violence.

The proclamation reminds Mindanaoan's Narratives of the Marcos dictatorship and its legacy of “cruelty and abuse of military power.” Pinoy Champion likewise asks if history is repeating itself.

In 1972, former President Ferdinand Marcos placed the whole nation under martial law. Civil rights were suspended and military authority was imposed all over the country. Marcos’ regime was tainted by massive corruption and grave human rights violations. He was ousted in a popular people's uprising in 1986.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution was crafted with the thought of preventing the repeat of such abuses of power. In The Daily PCIJ, Attys. Solomon Lumba and Nepomuceno Malaluan said that the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao tests

…whether the institutions granted by the Constitution with the power to check the exercise of the martial law power of the president are up to the task…

Proclamation No. 1959 will be the first time that the structures and mechanisms that we have placed in the 1987 Constitution to check the president’s discretion to declare martial law will be tested.

Congress, the Supreme Court, and we as a people should not be bound by the standards of the past under the 1935 and 1973 Constitution.

How we act today will determine how tyrants will act tomorrow. If we respond out of habit, those very habits could be the rope that will hang us all.

Discourses of a Free Mind breaks a month of silence to discuss the constitutional nature and bases of martial law and concludes:

Simply put, does the situation in Maguindanao constitute “invasion” or “rebellion” which will warrant the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and the imposition of martial law? From the looks of it the situation in Maguindanao could only fall within the definition of “lawless violence,” which is not among the situations contemplated for declaring martial law under the Constitution.

The Vera Files reports the Philippine Supreme Court's denial of the Arroyo administration's claim that the court system in Maguindanao was no longer functioning, which is one of the justifications for the declaration of martial law.

Veteran journalist Tony Abaya questions the citing of the presence of groups of armed men in Maguindanao as justification for martial law:

Madame Secretary, have you never heard of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)? They have groups of armed men, numbering more than 20 to 100 each, moving around Maguindanao since the 1990s and openly declaring that they are in rebellion against the Philippine Republic from which they want to secede.

And yet President Arroyo never had the guts to impose martial law on them or arrest them or forcibly collect their firearms. In fact, the martial law imposed by PP no. 1959 on Dec 04 pointedly excludes the territory controlled by the MILF on the grounds that the government is conducting “peace talks” with the self-declared rebels. So why not also have “peace talks” with the Ampatuans, instead of imposing martial law on them?

Cocoy Chronicles contrasts Arroyo to previous presidents who never used the martial law powers granted to them by the Constitution:

Mrs. Aquino never imposed it even has her government was poised to fall and she overcame half a dozen coup d’eta attempts without invoking Martial Law. Mr. Ramos’ relatively calm administration had no need for it. Mr. Estrada’s abbreviated stay at the Palace with its infamous War with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front had not imposed Martial Law.

Meanwhile, Raissa Robles points out how President Arroyo “imposed martial law by citing the wrong Republic Act establishing a village school.”

Many question the real motives behind the declaration. Pag-kilos ng kultura, for instance, reposts an article speculating that

“One possible reason for the martial-law declaration might be to cover up the massive fraud that marred the 2004 presidential and 2007 senatorial elections in the province,” he said, suggesting that “President Arroyo and her cohorts are afraid the Ampatuans may expose the rigging of election results in

Maguindanao that enabled her to win over opposition challenger Fernando Poe Jr. in the 2004 elections, and administration candidates to sweep the senatorial polls in the province in 2007.”

The Way it is warns martial law could be used to foster a no-elections scenario in 2010.

If martial law is allowed to go on in Maguindanao, trouble can easily be created in other parts of the country and the expansion of the coverage of martial law can immediately be justified.

With elections just around the corner, and recent talks of No-El scenarios still ringing in our ears, the imposition of Martial Law in Maguindanao under circumstances which do not require it should really be met with skepticism.

Blogger Kate Aubrey Hojilla fears that martial law will perpetuate the Arroyo administration in power beyond 2010.

The regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is about to end in less than six months. And heaven forbid, but military rule, that the government could claim they need, will possibly be taken in its highest form – which is again, another Martial Law. This is also one of the easiest ways to keep the power of the administration. Twisted – but yes, a possibility.

And the village idiot savant calls on all bloggers to say no to martial law:

…we have seen in the past that if we shout loud enough, we can make a little bit of difference. It's because we made such a hue and cry about the Ampatuan Massacre that the administration is cracking down on an ally.

While we're finally seeing action against the Ampatuans, it is unfortunately of the wrong kind…of the worst kind.

We need to speak out against it now, while we still can.


  • My son-in-law lived in the Philippines for a couple of years (and speaks Tagalog!). The corruption there is unbelievable. The mainstream people are wonderful, decent people – it’s the government that is corrupt (like most, if not all, I suppose). It is sad to read of such atrocities.

  • Anngell

    Martial Law during Marcos regime was different from the new Martial Law in Maguindanao. The Commissioner on Human Rights said, without Martial Law, the government cannot accomplish what has been done in the previous days – hundreds of arms and ammu were dug and confiscated. The volume may help start a war. Sad to say, the family feud has escalated into massacre of innocent people, half of them are media practitioners. May I correct a notion that the government is corrupt. No, it’s not. The corrupt are the few people working in the government whose lifestyles do not level their means of income. It’s not about poverty, it’s about attitude and values. The more vices one has, the more corrupt a person will be.

  • angelo

    Actually, this is what Commission on Human Rights chairperson Leila De Lima said in a radio interview:

    “I am not fully convinced that circumstances truly merit a declaration of martial law. Calls for swift justice on the Maguindanao massacre and the presence or massing of armed groups may not be enough basis for such declaration. Full force of the law, not martial law, is the form of decisive governmental intervention that the public expects.”

  • angelo

    And yes, there are already reports of human rights violations committed by government armed forces against civilians after martial law was imposed in Maguindanao. The CHR is looking into cases of alleged looting and sexual abuses of women:

  • mai

    we, the people here in the province of sultan kudarat believes that martial law in maguindanao is the right decision ever made by the president. those of you who comments and against to the declaration of martial law has no idea what is the life here where the ampatuan’s are around! They think they are the gods, they get what they wants who ever comes in there way are good as dead!! You don’t know what they are capable of! Have you ever tried to sleep..but you can’t? You don’t know what is life here with them around. We are just simple people living a simple life, we are aware of those rebels and communist who keep on fighting for what they believe in..But killing innocent people who ever gets on there way just to stay in power.. is unacceptable, morbid and inhuman!!!

  • […] Arroyo government declared martial law in the province of Maguindanao for one week last month to supposedly run after the Ampatuans and […]

  • […] 06-01-10 Philippines: Bloggers Raise Voices Against Martial Law […]

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