The soldier in Martial Law

Corporate Watch
Amelia H. C. Ylagan

Posted on May 29, 2017

He is the namesake of his late father, who was an officer like him, as he, the son, is now as old as his father was then. When did he become so like his father, those who saw him growing up in Fort Bonifacio ask? Men reared in the Courage, Loyalty and Integrity of the Philippine Military Academy, a generation apart but with the same awareness of their solemn pledge as commissioned officers to serve the country and its people. There are many fathers and sons (and now daughters), and close relations who serve or have served in the military, as a family tradition to be honored by passing the baton in patriotic service.

But the heirs to the dignity and respect earned by their fathers in the military might have never thought that they would still have to go through harsh testing of ethics and conflicted loyalties in yet another thrusting into Martial Law, after the victorious EDSA People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship and brought democracy back in 1986. For Rodrigo R. Duterte has opted to be Commander in Chief of the military over his civilian role as President for the people, in the reversal of the normalcy of civilian rule over military rule, when he declared Martial Law in Mindanao (only there, so far) on May 24.

The day before, fighting in Marawi City “erupted after security forces raided a safe house where they believed Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the infamous Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom gang and Philippine head of IS, was hiding” (AFP 05.27.2017). Hapilon has a $5-million bounty on his head from the US. “The raid went spectacularly wrong as dozens of gunmen emerged to repel the security forces, then tore across the city while flying black IS flags” (Ibid.) Another botched military operation? Like the botched Mamasapano operation in January 2015 to capture the “Osama Bin Laden of Asia,” Zulkifli Abdhir alias Marwan, for a $6-million bounty? Forty-four Special Action Forces men were killed in that encounter.

In the Marawi encounter, the militants who retaliated by burning buildings and holding innocent civilians captive belonged to the Maute group (estimated 263-strong) that has emerged only in recent years in Mindanao and gained strength on the proceeds of drug money, Duterte said in his report released Friday to Congress to justify Martial Law (Ibid.). At least 44 people have died in the fighting, including 31 militants and 11 soldiers, officials said Thursday. The violence has forced thousands of people to flee and raised fears of growing extremism in the country (AP 05.26.2017).

“To my countrymen who have experienced Martial Law: it would not be any different from what President Marcos did. I’d be harsh,” Duterte announced. “If it would take a year to do it then we’ll do it. If it’s over with a month, then I’d be happy. To my countrymen, do not be too scared,” said Duterte, a native of Mindanao (Reuters 05.23.2017). He said he would consider some security measures in the central Visayas region next to Mindanao to facilitate arrests, and could even declare Martial Law nationwide (Newsweek 05.25.2017). To those now even more scared, Duterte said: “Martial law of Mr. Marcos was very good” (Nikkei Asian Review 05.25.2017). Whatever happened to “Never Again”? (“Marcos Martial Law: Never Again” by Raissa Robles)

Former President Fidel V. Ramos, leader of the military component of the EDSA Revolution, said Friday that Martial Law across Mindanao was not justified, and called for it to be quickly revoked (Newsweek op. cit.). Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, had said in various media interviews that the situation in Marawi City does not qualify as rebellion, as basis for declaring Martial Law (Rappler 05.25.2017). The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, a group of human rights attorneys, called it “a sledgehammer, knee-jerk reaction” that would “open the flood gates for unbridled human rights violations” (Reuters op. cit.).

Duterte said Martial Law would mean checkpoints and arrests and searches without warrant, and it would go on for as long as necessary (Newsweek op.cit.). “Anyone now holding a gun, confronting government with violence, my orders are spare no one, let us solve the problems of Mindanao once and for all,” he said. “If I think you should die, you will die. If you fight us, you will die. If there’s an open defiance, you will die, and if it means many people dying, so be it. That’s how it is.” (Ibid.)

In pep talks to troops, Duterte warned soldiers and operatives of Martial Law not to commit abuses, specially human rights offenses. “The consequences of Martial Law and the ramifications of Martial Law, I and I alone would be responsible. Just do your jobs, I’ll take care of the rest,” he said in Iligan City, where most Marawi residents fled (CNN 05.27.2017). But in total contradiction, he added a crude joke, “If you rape three people, I will admit that I did it” (Ibid.). How is the soldier to think, behave and act, in the conflicted order of battle in Martial Law?

The soldier is perhaps the worst-fated casualty of Martial Law. Though trained to protect and preserve peace for fellowmen, he is stripped by the same authority ingrained in himself and in his leaders that told him not to hurt others -- now to exact obedience and compliance from others with whatever it takes. The soldier, within his rank and immediate situation exercises near-absolute power over civilians who before were his protected “family” in the country that all together call home. Indeed it is a bitter prescription for near-irreversible schizophrenia that Martial Law would impose this split-personality upon the soldier, as he moves from democratic civilian-rule-over-military, to Martial Law’s military-rule-over-civilian and back again to the former.

We weep for the unfairness to our soldiers for the conflict in them, in their honest passion to serve the people. We thank the many generations of soldiers who have zealously adhered to their death, to the values and principles of integrity and respect for human rights. And we pray for those in the military who succumb to the temptations of power and influence in Martial Law.

Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.