Why Many Filipinos Support Martial Law 30 years After (and why they should think twice) - Blueboard by Benjamin ‘Benj’ G. Barretto

July 25, 2017

The spectre of martial law (ML) crept back on the Philippines when Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. (better known as BBM and son of the former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos) ran for the Vice Presidency in the May 10, 2017 national elections and almost won.  Social media got flooded with both positive (accomplishments) and negative (destructive) information of his father’s more than 21-year rule – true or false news posted by ML victims, trolls and what have you.  The country’s social media arena further got flooded with comments here and there, pro and anti, right and wrong and everything else in between.
 
In the sea of ML news and comments, some Ateneans posted pro-martial law comments prompting this writer to remind his Ateneo Political Science students then that there were only two reasons they could justify supporting martial law. First, their families benefited from it and/or second, they accepted what they read and hear without verifying facts and sources. The latter being very un-Atenean as they were expected and trained to be critical thinkers. I was wrong. There were more reasons and they are complicated and interrelated.
 

A year after elections, ML was declared (though not in the whole country but in Mindanao) by President Rodrigo R. Duterte in response to the Marawi siege. The Supreme Court by a majority vote of 11 for and 4 against declared it constitutional.  Surveys, likewise showed support for the declaration.
         
Self-interest has been a reason then and now for supporting ML, which will certainly benefit those who will have the authority to implement them and exploit them for their own business interests. There is also that culture or system of dependence by Congress and politicians on the President.  The Filipino cultures of ‘utang ng loob’ and ‘pakikisama’ to the President as he shares valuable resources and power with politicians are still very much alive in Philippine politics today.
 
Fear and self-preservation – with or without basis.  Dictators exploit them most from people who cannot seem to protect themselves. Fear comes not only from criminality and terrorism.  Some would opt to support (or at least be silent) because of troll bullying. Those directly threatened by violence have the right to fear and valid reason to seek whatever solution to simply be alive.
         
Despair, desperation, and even anger as nothing much has improved 30 years hence, is real.  There are still 25 million poor- the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer.  Corruption has never been eradicated. Patronage politics and political dynasties never left. Criminality, rebellion, and terrorism threats are justifiable concerns.
 
Ignorance particularly for those who never experienced ML - the millennials never bothering to check facts and sources to determine alternative or fake news as they read social media has been blamed upon them by elders. Maybe true, but why were they not taught in the first place about the facts on ML when they were in grade school or in high school?  We repeatedly hear “those who do not learn from the past are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past.” Yet, those who did experience ML back then are now frontline supporters because of loyalty, self-interest, and other reasons.
 
And then there is apathy (who cares) – as long as it does not affect my business, my family, my way of life, I am for it.  Collateral damage is fine as long as it is not a family member. Every person for him/ herself.
 
One more reason is worth adding.  President Rodrigo R. Duterte keeps stating, “I declared ML because I love my country.  I will do everything to protect my country!”  Majority of his supporters truly believe that only their President can protect the country – its only savior – the same accolade given by supporters to former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.  Almost like worshipping a God religiously.
 
I did not support ML back then and certainly do not support the present ML. I do not have the right to speak for those who support President Duterte’s declaration of ML.
         
But this I know.  Self-interest (selfishness), fear and self-preservation, despair, desperation, and anger, ignorance, and apathy and savior worshipping– these were the same reasons why ML from 1972 to 1981 happened, prospered, and destroyed our country back then.
 
When Filipino citizens again begin being unselfish, brave to stand up and protect their rights, fight instead of just be desperate and angry, seek the truth, start being men and women for others caring for the poor, and stop worshipping politicians as if they are gods – only then will we again earn the respect of the whole world.
 
I know because I was there.  I experienced martial law and its effect to our people and economy.  And I was part of the 1986 EDSA revolution that showed and taught the whole world the simple values of courage, truth, self-confidence and less dependence on politicians, service for others, empathy (malasakit) and faith in a loving God.
 
Benjamin Barretto is formerly the Executive Director of the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines or JVP.  He is a part-time faculty of the Department of Political Science teaching Politics and Governance course. He was Administrator of the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government or ASoG during its early years, taught and did consultancies in the School. He once taught the Integrated Program Management of the Master in Public Management of ASoG for the Lanao del Sur Provincial Government MPM Program in Marawi City.