The smell is in the air

An errant wire story stating that President Rodrigo Duterte might declare martial law next week created a ruckus and had people on the edge of their seats. It turned out that the reporting wasn’t accurate and what defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana said was that the likelihood of Duterte declaring martial law next week “is remote”.

Nevertheless, the air of martial law has become ominous of late, fueled no less by the president’s penchant reference to it and his latest threat to declare martial rule throughout the entire country, as a direct warning to leftist and progressive groups planning to hold protests this coming week over the recent killings.

Lorenzana’s clarification on the president’s word was an attempt to sober up the situation. As the administrator of martial law in Mindanao, he somehow projects the Philippine military establishment’s discomfort with the idea of another strongman rule. Still, the president’s increasing intolerance towards all critics of his drugs war and the opposition, and his predisposition to authoritarianism, creates a climate of anxiety.

Those who had experienced the terror of martial law under Marcos know how it was to live in denial of basic liberties and to be denied of our inherent rights as human beings that our Constitution so adequately guarantees.

What makes today’s situation petrifying for those who value civil liberties is the submissive stance shown by the House of Representatives in voting recently to deny the 2018 budget of the Commission on Human Rights. Appalling here was the manner by which the leadership of this chamber and its minions of congressmen followers railroaded the decision without even the benefit of debate and careful deliberation. It is not hard to imagine that anything the President does at this point towards curtailing human rights and civil liberties will henceforth receive backing, nay even applause, from the lower chamber.

Recent netizen’s reactions to the CHR budget cuts are a clear indication that people still value human rights even in the midst of a bloody drugs war. The vote was a party line position of the ruling administration, if not a case of kowtowing to President Duterte’s public hatred towards the Commission. At least in the case of Palawan, the views expressed by citizens through social media showed there was no political constituency behind that vote.

The spectre of martial law and its attendant curtailment of basic social and political rights is in the air. It was put there by no less than the President himself who, ironically, was the only presidential candidate during the last elections who categorically shunned martial law as a policy.

Those who truly understand what this means, what loss will martial bring to society, ought to speak out now, in clear and unequivocal terms. For Palawenos who disavowed the votes cast by their congressmen in support of the CHR budget denial, now is the time to let their duly mandated representatives in Congress to reflect their sentiments. Include in that a solemn prayer that when the occasion of reckoning comes and martial law is poised upon us, our collective voice as a people is amply represented.

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