By Arjay L. Balinbin
WITH his order for the Philippine military to take over the Bureau of Customs (BoC), President Rodrigo R. Duterte is “testing the waters” for the declaration of a nationwide military rule, analysts said.
“Right now, what’s happening in the BoC is just ‘testing the waters.’ I would look at it that way,” Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) sociology professor Louie C. Montemar said in a phone interview last Saturday, Nov. 3.
For his part, University of the Philippines (UP) Law Professor Antonio G.M. La Viña said there is a big chance for the President to declare martial law nationwide given his “militarian” style of leadership.
“I always put that the chance of the President declaring martial law is at 75% because that’s his frame of mind. He solves things by depending on the military,” Mr. La Viña said in a phone interview on Oct. 30.
Mr. Montemar added that if the military’s supervision of the BoC “succeeds in a way or if they package it as if it is succeeding, then that can be the basis for the President to say that they will need to make militarization [in other agencies] happen.”
“The President can really do it [martial law], but he needs good timing for it…. He’s been trying to impress to people that there are threats to safety and security for instance, and he is again raising the issue of the communists’ [ouster plot]…. He is raising various conspiracy theories…. You can see the pattern,” Mr. Montemar also said.
He noted as well that the President is being “careful about presenting the idea” of a military rule in the country. “Probably, he is thinking also that why declare it when we can actually do what can be done without declaring it?” Mr. Montemar said.
For Mr. La Viña, other government agencies should be alarmed that they may get “militarized” too after the BoC. “Of course, because what’s next? If there are agencies that are not working, then you will let the military…take over? Actually it’s wrong because it doesn’t solve the problem. The military is not a band-aid [solution] for everything. The military is good at fighting wars. That’s what they are trained for,” he said.
“What’s very clear to me is that the President is more inclined on militarian solutions to things than anything else….I’d say we really have to watch out for the declaration of martial law and the declaration of military takeover of many [agencies] in the country,” he also said.
On placing the BoC under military rule, Mr. Montemar said: “I really don’t see the logic of the order. One, it is illegal; number two, historically, we have seen how the military itself can be very corrupt, coming from our experience with the past dictator; and number three, there is no really a written order….As I said, the President is not inclined to doing things in the legal way.”
For his part, Mr. La Viña said: “The problem with the President is that he has not appointed the right people….I’ll take a risk in saying that [former Customs commissioners Nicanor E.] Faeldon and [Isidro S.] Lapeña are good people and they are not corrupt, but they are not competent. They had no clue. They were clueless about what they had to do in the institution.”
The administration, according to Mr. Montemar, “needs to learn lessons from the past.”
“The military, with all due respect, is an institution that is very proud of its integrity. But actual experiences in the past showed that this integrity could have a price. Civilians are also like that, so there is no guarantee that either civilians or military men will not be involved in graft and corruption….It’s how you design the system in the agency. It’s how you set up the culture of that agency to better ensure the integrity of the institution. It’s not a matter of who will be there, but it is how the system works and how things are really managed,” he said further.
In his remarks in Davao City last Oct. 28, Mr. Duterte vowed that there will be no martial law declaration in the second half of his term, but stressed that he will use the “strongest tools” in dealing with crimes in the country.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo was sought for comment as of press time.
For her part, Vice-President Maria Leonor G. Robredo said in her radio show on Sunday, “Hindi militarization iyong solusyon. Dapat tingnan bakit ba nagkakaganito iyong Customs?” (Militarization isn’t the solution. We need to look at why this is happening in Customs).
“Hindi naman bawal na mag-appoint ka ng mga dating militar, pero para sabihin mo na i-a-under na sa military iyong Bureau of Customs, mali iyon” she added. (Appointing former military men is not prohibited, but to say that you will place the Bureau of Customs under the military, that’s wrong). — with Charmaine A. Tadalan