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Monday, June 24, 2024

Not an option

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At a dinner with reporters, President Rodrigo Duterte said martial law remains an option for him so he could act on the problem of illegal drugs, terrorism and rebellion in the country.

He is not a fan of martial law, he said, but declaring it could be a measure he could take to respond to widespread violence.

Just a few days ago, Palace officials also floated the idea of suspending the writ of habeas corpus in the context of the same war on illegal drugs —something that was immediately rejected by many sectors, including the President’s allies in Congress. The strong reaction prompted Malacañang to take back its words and say it was just a thought.

The Constitution does not make any such declaration easy: Given the checks-and-balances system in government, the Legislature and the Judiciary themselves have options on what to do if the Executive branch does resort to martial law.

The President must realize that talking about martial law is an admission that he is failing to curb the menace. Proud man that he is, is Mr. Duterte ready to concede defeat this early?

We don’t believe that this administration has failed in its initial steps—no, far from it. Just look at the number of dead suspected drug pushers and users, the impunity with which the killings are committed, and the overall feeling of foreboding even among those who have nothing to hide but who fret they may be just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

And if the “continuing lawlessness” in Mindanao is such a concern, for what, then, are the peace initiatives for especially now that Moro National Liberation Front chairman Nur Misuari has been included in the process, warrants of arrest notwithstanding?

On one hand it is reassuring to dismiss Mr. Duterte’s statements as coming from somebody who does not really mean what he says, or who at least needs to put a lot more thought into what comes out of his mouth.

On the other hand—and this is the more somber realization—we have a leader who toys with extreme ideas and speaks his mind about them even before he considers the implications of what he says or what their consequences might be. A president who thinks less than he should before opening his mouth—this is perhaps the scariest prospect of all.

When will this President realize that loose talk should not be an option for somebody in his position, especially during these precarious times?


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