Martial law

The Constitution empowers the president of the republic to impose martial law, so President Duterte is exercising his prerogative in placing Mindanao under military rule. The objective, he said upon returning to the country from Russia yesterday, is to “solve” the threat posed by the Maute group “once and for all.”

He can best achieve his objective with public support. This is attained if the people see that martial law is not another exercise in the abuse of power, as in the days of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, but meant chiefly to keep the public safe.

The people had a lot of warning from President Duterte, who had admitted considering martial law in Mindanao several times in recent months to deal with lawlessness. The siege of Marawi City starting last Tuesday by combined forces of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf under Isnilon Hapilon was the last straw for the President.

Marawi was also the staging ground for the rebellion launched by the Moro National Liberation Front under Nur Misuari in October 1972, a month after Marcos declared martial law. The dictatorship unleashed its forces to crush the rebellion, but the MNLF remained a threat until Marcos’ constabulary chief Fidel Ramos became president and forged a peace deal with Misuari in 1996.

Misuari’s MNLF was driven by a separatist objective. No ideology underpins the Maute and Abu Sayyaf. The bandits simply want to wield power over others by sowing hatred and terror through lethal violence. These are the same objectives of the terrorist Islamic State, which the Maute claims as its inspiration.

Any group that espouses inhuman atrocities deserves to be crushed. Reports from Marawi yesterday showed the bandits living up to their reputation, making even Vice President Leni Robredo express guarded support for the President’s preferred means of ending the threat.

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But people still remember the abuses of Marcos’ military rule. Allaying fears of similar abuses should be among the priorities as martial law under Duterte unfolds. The President must make a clear case for his declaration, laying out his objectives, from the minimum to the ideal. He must reassure the nation that his brand of martial law is meant to put the government in control in the face of lawlessness rather than to control law-abiding citizens.

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