Anyone for having martial law?

CHASING THE WIND - Felipe B. Miranda -
Katakut-takot ang K ng mga Pilipino! May K ng krimen, K ng korupsyon, K ng koryente, K ng kapaligiran, K ng kabuhayan, ng kakulangan ng kita, ng kakainin at iba’t-iba pang K! (Terrifying crises beset Filipinos! There is the crisis of crime, the crisis of corruption, the crisis of electoral power, the crisis of the environment, the crisis of the economy, of inadequate income and lack of food and other crises!)

Very few people dispute the reality of this syndrome of simultaneous and mutually reinforcing crises, already bad before the terrors of September 11, 2001 and apparently even worsening since then. How do Filipinos feel as regards their abilities to cope with – the rather revealing Filpinism is "to cope up to" – this daunting environment? Are they ready to adopt an extreme measure which the Philippine Constitution identifies and permits to be used in face of a looming national calamity? How many Filipinos now would favor declaring martial law to solve the country’s numerous crises?

In its most recent Ulat ng Bayan national survey, Pulse Asia asked a representative sample of 1,200 Filipinos between September 22 and October 4, 2001 whether they agreed, disagreed or felt undecided with the following test statement:

Sa katotohanan lamang, maaaring kailangan ngayon na magkaroon ng batas militar o martial law para malutas ang maraming krises ng bansa
(Candidly speaking, it may be necessary now to have martial law to solve the nation’s many crises).

Asked towards the end of the survey after their perceptions, sentiments and attitudes had been probed in relation to their personal and the nation’s most urgent concerns and long after they had expressed much apprehension about national crises that appear to worsen rather than improve, a small majority (53 percent) of the respondents nevertheless thumbed down martial law as an appropriate policy response now. About 1 in 5 (22 percent) vacillated on the propriety of martial law declaration and in 4 (25 percent) endorsed taking this policy option.

Those most opposed to martial law declaration are people from the Visayas, particularly those living in its rural areas (64 percent), the oldest respondents 65 years old and above (63 percent), those who are self-employed (63 percent) and people who have finished a college education (73 percent).

Support for initiating martial law is noticeably bigger only among those who education-wise have at best an unfinished high school background (31 percent).

Vacillation or indecision concerning the advisability of using martial law to address the country’s crises is registered most by farmers (28 percent) and those who work in government for a living (27 percent). On the other hand, respondents who are self-employed (16 percent) and who finished their college education (17 percent) reflected least indecision on this issue.

The 53 percent majority opposing martial law now may look encouraging to people with liberal political preferences. Taken with the survey’s other findings suggesting relatively high levels of public approval and trust for key government officials and agencies, this majority may provide liberals much assurance that Filipinos would consistently prefer normal constitutional processes in coping with their worsening national difficulties.

Such confidence could be mistaken. Those already agreeing to a martial law option now (25 percent) and those who are not completely averse to it (the undecided 22 percent) already sum up to almost half of the respondents. Even the small majority now opposing martial law could erode much if no stabilization - or an improvement however small – were to materialize soon in these crises besetting the nation. An enterprising demagogue or a populist leader who can quickly earn charismatic recognition may upset the unwieldy balance slightly favoring liberal politics now.

Those who are truly against a resurgence of martial law sentiments do not have all the time to put their act together, to work and deliver together on the critical concerns of this country. Politically and economically, the time as well as the space within which responsible authorities and civic-minded citizens must effect solutions to the nation’s recurrent crises have dramatically compressed.

Millions among us survived the terrifying experience of Marcos’ martial law and resolved "Never again!" Especially for survivors like us, it is best to confront grim national realities and – in truly daring to master them – be driven by the conviction that the time to act is now, or forever never!

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