Martial law

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag - The Freeman

So, Noynoy Aquino himself considered imposing martial law in Sulu in a desperate bid to contain the bandit group Abu Sayyaf. Seems like a very radical thought for someone who spent most of his adult life being the chief articulator of just how evil military rule is. Is martial law then only evil when you are on the receiving end of it and not when you are the wielder of its terrible powers?

The Aquino family was one of many who suffered under martial law during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and for years Noynoy has employed the specter of martial law as an effective political leverage, both to promote his family's interests and to undermine those of the Marcoses. It was an unquestionable employment in light of what his family suffered and lost.

It was as if the right to exploit the privileges of being martial law sufferers became self-acquired birthrights of the Aquinos and a few prominent and select others, with the privileges not being transferable to those who lived through martial law but did not suffer as they did. I remember having written once about not having suffered during martial law and how one reader came at me as if I was un-Filipino.

But why should I suffer under martial law when I didn't have to? Did I have to submit myself to a military camp and have myself thrown into a stockade just so I can beat my own breast later that I was a hero? Marcos had many enemies and those enemies he went after. But I was not an enemy of his. Why should I speak bad about him when I had nothing against him - just so I can have my freedom of speech curtailed and call myself a hero?

Heroism does not conform to a single measure. Maybe those who fought Marcos were heroes. But so were the millions of others who continued to serve the interest of the nation by doing what they do best - work in their chosen fields without regard for all the noise in politics. The farmers, fishers, traders, manufacturers, teachers - they all proceeded with life, without which everything would have collapsed. They were the real heroes, the unsung ones who did not ask to be recognized.

But now the political noise resurfaced briefly when the Marcos son and namesake Bongbong tried an unsuccessful run at the vice presidency. Leading the charge, as usual, to thwart his bid was Noynoy, again using the specter of martial law to promote his own and his party's political interests and not really because he thought that it was honestly still a viable proposition.

Martial law is dead. Even Bongbong will not dare tinker with the thought. Even half of the nation's voters who did not vote for the eventual vice presidential winner, Leni Robredo, thought so too and voted for Bongbong. Only a little over 200,000 votes separated the two, or the combined population of Minglanilla, Consolacion and Cordova in Cebu.

Robredo may have won the vice presidency, but the votes that went to Bongbong showed in no uncertain terms that martial law is dead and does not work anymore as a political issue. The message is so unmistakable even Noynoy himself no longer has any qualms admitting to the Filipino nation that he has entertained thoughts of imposing martial law.

It does not matter if he was thinking only of Sulu and targeting only the Abu Sayyaf. These factors do not massage away what martial law entails on the matter of rights and freedoms. On the other hand, now we are confronted with the moral dilemma of choosing between Marcos who had no pretentions about martial law and Noynoy, who had nothing good to say about martial law suddenly doing an about face when it suited his personal and political interests.

That Noynoy eventually decided not to go ahead with martial law in Sulu does not in any way diminish the fact that he did think of imposing it. He does not have to actually do it to prove he has seen some good in it. In that only fools do not change their minds can Noynoy be forgiven. If only he had not been so cruel and unforgiving himself.

One final thought. It gives me the shivers to consider the possibility of Sulu just being a ploy. There are a lot of compelling reasons why Noynoy might want to impose martial law, and not really because he wants to defeat the Abu Sayyaf. Noynoy as president is already commander-in-chief. He doesn't have to really impose martial law to defeat the Abu sayyaf if he really wanted to. Noynoy, an Aquino, toying with the idea of martial law gives me other thoughts that make me tremble.


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