Law expert refuses to join #NeverAgain; "Martial law is always a power the President may exercise"


I was in fourth year high school the day we woke up, on September 23, went to school, and were told that there was no school. My father drove me and Jet through town, and there was an eerie quiet. There were soldiers at radio stations, and there was no broadcast, except a brief announcement that we were to tune in at 6 that night.

But the days before were sheer chaos: There were demonstrations and rallies almost every day. The thoroughfares were impassable because activists wanted the streets to themselves. Earlier we were told of UP students who had occupied the university for some time, until they were driven off by the elements of the military.

At 6 that evening, we tuned in the TV at home, at Mercedes Village. There was TV but no cable service, which meant that my grandfather had to construct such a high antenna that installing it alone caused him to scrape his knee very badly. Through the blurry black and white monitor came Marcos' image and a stern voice that announced that as of September 21, he had placed the entire country under Martial Law. Curfew was announced, and all were warned that carrying firearms was punishable by death. He however assured the nation that the courts would continue to administer justice, although by then he had had the leaders of the opposition arrested.

The day after, there were soldiers stationed at Bonifacio Street, Tuguegarao's "calle de comercio" and any man who sported long hair was immediately given a free, rather far-from-gentle hair trim.

Following Proclamation 1081, many heaved a sigh of relief. There was order. The streets of Manila were free of the noisy and raucous hordes. There was no fear about walking about in the evening because everyone knew that misbehaviour could have dire consequences. There was also the welcome news that government had "nationalised" key utilities controlled by the oligarchs of the day. Eventually, of course, martial law would spawn its own circle of oligarchs.

Soon, we were told that officials of civil government had to coordinate with their military counterparts. In fact, since I was a Boy Scout leader at that time, I had to haggle, plead with the Philippine Constabulary for permission for encampment or jamboree. And anyone who took the overnight trip to Manila by land knew that at midnight, the bus had to park somewhere and wait for 4 am when curfew was lifted. Even Misa de Gallo had to become Misa de Vaca -- celebrated the night before, because walking the streets before 4 am could get you listening not to a homily but to a lecture on the Bagong Lipunan at some stockade.

I think that things started to go wrong when the military habituated itself with calling the shots. We did not hear of EJKs. In fact, the term did not even exist then. There were allegations of torture and disappearances, but there was really no general scare, as far as I recall. But people knew there was so much that they could not do. "Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan" said Ariel Ureta, trying to be humorous. And after his program -- so we were told -- elements of the military picked him up, and gave him a bicycle to work out his fantasies at Camp Crame.
True, the chambers of Congress were silent -- but that also meant that what the President wanted to get done did not have to go through the rigmarole of political horse-trading. For the first year or so, I think that the general sense was that martial law was a welcome respite from the uncertainty, the mayhem and the increasing aggressiveness of the Communist Party.

Marcos repeatedly challenged those who opposed Martial Law to public debates. None engaged him. I still remember clearly that the leaders of the opposition at that time were invited as a group to debate with Marcos, but the seats remained empty. My father, ever the wise man, explained that it was not because they feared the debate but because they did not want Marcos to appear like some invincible hero. There was, indeed, the possibility that he could best them all! He appeared before a hostile assembly of journalists in Hawaii, and rattled off American jurisprudence that defined martial law, to establish that he was operating well within the confines of the law. The journalists, unwilling to admit that he had silenced them, later wrote that he had "oversold the case for martial law".

But Martial Law was a case of something welcome that overstayed its welcome. Military commissions dispensed judgement fast -- not necessarily justice. In this respect, it is true that justice hurried is justice buried!

When I went to college seminary, one year after martial law was declared, I read "Today's Revolution: Democracy" for the first time, and I was honestly captivated by the acuteness of Marcos' thinking. I admired the fact that he offered a theoretical framework for Martial Law -- I continue to admire that. Whatever else might have been his motives, that will not negative the fact that his book(s) provided one with sense that he knew what he was doing, and that he was set on getting some things done.

Was martial law good or bad? I lived through martial law. Like most things in life that one remembers, it is an ambivalent era of our history. The Supreme Court upheld it, and I am not prepared to say that all the justices then were cowards. If anything at all, they were brilliant. But there were dark, perhaps blood-stained patches as well.

I will not join the "never again" movement, because that is not what our Constitution ordains. Martial law is always a power the President may exercise -- and should exercise -- when the survival of the Republic depends on its judicious imposition and wise management.

SOURCE: Ranhilio Callangan Aquino; September 21, 2018;