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VSmall price to pay

Forget that Congress voted overwhelmingly –14 to 4 in the Senate, 226 to 23 in the House of Representatives– to extend martial law in Mindanao for one more year. Even ordinary citizens, or at least the majority of them, if polled, would probably go along and concur with the extension. So how come something that used to be so abhorred by many would now be considered tolerable, if not downright acceptable?

There could be several reasons for this, but I can think of at least only two right now. One is that people have finally seen through all the bad things said about martial law and have determined for themselves that it is not exactly what they have been made to believe for so long. Two is that certain things have gotten so bad in this country that people are now compelled to try anything that promises a fair expectation of success, even martial law.

For so long, there had only been one narrative about martial law, the one that was implemented in the Philippines by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Those who had a different story to tell stayed silent, for whatever reason. But that does not detract from the fact that there are always, always, two sides to a story. And if the persistent version of martial law is bad, then the unspoken version can only be good.

And this is borne by the incontrovertible evidence that, despite the Philippine experience, martial law continues to be an optional power reserved for the exclusive exercise of the president. It is right there in the Constitution, the very constitution put together after martial law was dismantled. The only conclusion to be derived from this is that, if martial law is so bad, it should have no place anymore in any democratic constitution.

That it does can only mean it is good, that it can only be bad if the one who wields it wields it for purposes other than the reason for its continued existence. That said, the current wielder of martial law must perceptively be not on the same level as the one who abused it and made it so abhorrent. That current wielder, Rodrigo Duterte, must perceptively be more reliable and trustworthy despite the bad things said about him than Marcos.

But that still makes any perception of martial law dependent on the personalities that either wield it or go through the experience, good or bad. Martial law itself, as a power or a tool, needs to be characterized according to its own measure. And indeed it is useful, as defined by the circumstances under which it may be utilized. So useful in fact that it is now being used, or sought to be used, even in non-extraordinary circumstances where normal processes ought to apply.

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Despite the semantics about rebellion, insurrection, or terrorism that can only serve to muddle the issue, the bottom line is that things have gone so askew in this country that there is a desperate need to put things back in order. And if that desperate need requires desperate measures, then that is probably how and why we have come to where we are now –using martial law to put things back in order.

So what does this tell all of us? That our normal way of doing things no longer works. There is a breakdown of what used to be. People have become so desperate to put the country back on track that they are willing to give even martial law a shot. The situation is such that people feel they no longer have anything to lose. Martial law has become too small a price to pay for putting us back where we ought to be all along.

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