Eternal vigilance

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Filipinos were often reminded about this during the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship, and even in the years after people power as the fragile democracy faced an unending stream of threats.

Today the admonition should again resonate, even as many Filipinos express cautious support for President Duterte’s approach to crushing violent extremism in Mindanao. Responding to attacks by the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in Marawi City, the President declared martial law in the entire Mindanao, signing the proclamation even while he was still in Moscow where he aborted a four-day official visit.

Inevitably, concerns have been raised about the potential for abuse of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. Civilian government and military officials have reassured the public that care will be taken to prevent abuses. But the best way to discourage abuses is public vigilance.

In this mission, the public has tools that were not available during the Marcos regime, notably social media. The use of camera phones and closed-circuit television can be maximized to expose abuses.

These information tools, however, can also be used to assist the government in confronting the threat of extremist violence. The Maute has pledged allegiance to the terrorist Islamic State. For the IS, the ideal society is patterned after the brutally repressive one created by the Taliban in Afghanistan. This is completely contrary to the democratic way of life.

The IS and its militants continue to sow hate and terror all over the world. It is not farfetched for the group to extend its influence to the Philippines, particularly in Mindanao’s conflict zones. Violent extremism feeds on poverty and social injustice, and some of the poorest areas in the country are in Mindanao. Those who feel that the state and the social system have failed them are vulnerable to radicalization by those who want to supplant open societies with Taliban-inspired control. This is a threat to freedom that also deserves utmost eternal vigilance.

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