Talks about President Duterte declaring martial law this week became louder and sounded more urgent five days ago when the AFP (Agence France-Presse) came out with an article with the title “Philippines’ Duterte may declare martial law: defense chief.” This triggered alarm bells and the AFP article was posted by most, if not all, media agencies, local and foreign.
Well, the AFP has pulled out the article from its website and local media agencies have updated, nay changed, the tone of its article to “Lorenzana on nationwide declaration of martial law: ‘Remote possibility.” That was a huge swing. Was it a case of a spin, as Malacañang called it? Perhaps it is more of a case of finding an angle that is ‘newsworthy,’ or sensational enough to catch the attention of readers, which is called tabloidization.
But what is the probability that President Duterte will declare martial law as his “idol” and his father’s friend the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos did in 1972?
Well, some people would think that it is not a remote possibility. President Duterte has repeatedly warned about it especially when irked by criticisms; he has been outspoken about his admiration for the late dictator Marcos to the extent of paving the way for his burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, despite national condemnation; he has been helping the Marcos family rehabilitate their name and settle their cases.
President Duterte has been lambasting the media; he has not only ignored criticisms about his bloody illegal drugs war, which has claimed the lives of thousands, but he has even showered his critics with profanities; he has consistently egged policemen to kill more people in the name of the drugs war; he has threatened to bomb Lumad schools and communities the military suspects of being supportive of the New People’s Army.
And of course, President Duterte has placed the whole island of Mindanao under martial law since May 23. Martial law in Mindanao was extended by Congress till the end of the year.
Given the wild swings of President Duterte, he may indeed declare martial law. But will it be as sweeping as the one declared by his “idol” the late dictator Marcos?
First, the Filipino people have experienced launching two people power uprisings already. When the late dictator Marcos declared martial law, he was able to surprise and shock the Filipino people. Marcos was able to control the population for a few years until the start of the upsurge of the anti-dictator movement with the workers’ strikes in 1974 that culminated in the La Tondeña strike of 1975. The protest movements of the workers, youth and students and the urban poor converged in big protest actions from 1976 up to 1986.
Second, the context then was that the US was supporting a number of dictatorships in countries where it had a stranglehold on then. Now, while there is a drift to the right in the US, with the Trump administration, it would be more costly politically for it to do so in the absence of a war situation such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, where it had to declare a measure of normalcy after a few years. In the Philippines, it was the Marawi siege that justified the declaration of martial law.
Third, the late dictator Marcos was able to shut down all lines of communications. That is practically impossible now.