President Rodrigo Duterte appealed to Congress to extend martial law. Is Duterte preparing for a state of perpetual martial law?
By Oliver Ward
In a potentially illegal move, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte requested a one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao. On Wednesday the 13th of December, the Filipino congress approved Duterte’s request.
The decision ushers in the longest period of martial law since the Marcos era in the 1970s. Duterte said the reasons behind his decision were the security threats the New People’s Army and Islamic groups loyal to the Islamic State present to the area.
Is the move legal under the constitution?
The recommendations to extend martial law came from the Bangon Marawi Task Force and the Department of National Defence (DND). The aim is to facilitate rehabilitation efforts in Mindanao. Under martial law logistics involved with the reconstruction can move unhindered. Martial law is also supposed to curb the recruitment of terrorist groups in the region.
However, there is no constitutional basis for the extension. The 1987 constitution states the government can only extend martial law in “case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it”.
There has not been a rebellion in Mindanao for months. The President himself declared Mindanao liberated from terrorists two months ago. Without an imminent threat of rebellion, there should be no extension of martial law.
Does Duterte want perpetual martial law?
The threat from IS-linked terrorist groups is not going to dissolve anytime soon. The New People’s Army has also been a problem for the Filipino government for decades. If martial law is Duterte’s solution to these problems, then he may attempt to create a perpetual state of martial law in Mindanao.
Senator Leila de Lima expressed her concern over the situation. “Duterte is slowly weaning us away from constitutional democracy, towards his authoritarian designs for a perpetual martial law.”
The extension could disrupt democratic elections in the region
Her concern is justified. Senator Francis Escudero fears that the martial law extension will pave the way for a suspension of the May 2018 local elections in Mindanao.
The threat of disrupting elections with exaggerated threats and perpetual martial law is a chilling reminder of the dark days of the Marcos administration in the 1970s. There are indications that Duterte could be considering implementing a Marcos-style state of martial law. He holds the former dictator in high esteem. Duterte gave Marcos a heroes’ burial in 2016.
The 1987 constitution providing the legal foundation for Duterte’s martial law is far more restricting than the 1935 constitution Marcos used. However, Duterte has already breached the 1987 terms by extending martial law despite the absence of an invasion or rebellion.
If Duterte is happy to run roughshod over the 1987 constitution in this way, he may be willing to breach it in other ways too. A reporter recently asked if he could rule out the possibility of extending martial law nationally. Duterte simply replied, “all options are on the table.”
Duterte is not Marcos. Not yet. But if Mindanao cannot hold elections in May, the similarities between the President and the kleptomaniac dictator of old will begin to become obvious. For Mindanao, martial law is here to stay. For the rest of the Philippines, make preparations, a national rollout of martial law could be around the corner.