Updated: Arroyo’s “Partial Martial” harkens back to Marcos’ days

Back in the 1980s, all you had to say was “Anti-Marcos rally” and hundreds of freedom loving people—Filipinos, Americans, American Filipinos—would instantly gather to express outrage with the Philippine dictatorship.
To be an American Filipinos had a real purpose then. The U.S. was in bed with a dictator.
Now the U.S. is only in bed with Philippine President Gloria “Marcos Lite” Arroyo. And everything else is muted.
We just don’t get upset much about anything anymore, including killing 31 journalists. Maybe we should.
I thought of that as I stood before a small group assembled in San Francisco after a mass was heard at St.Patrick’s Church for the journalists killed in Maguindanao just before Thanksgiving.
Including civilians, 58 people were discovered mutilated, massacred and buried in a Philippines killing field allegedly at the order of the leaders of the Amputuans, a powerful family amongst the country’s oligarchs with ties to the current president.
When I heard of the massacre, I admit to being unmoved at first. In America, journalists may lose their jobs. In the Philippines, they lose their lives.
With more than 130 journalists murdered there in recent times, you can understand why I reacted like a San Francisco native shaking off a 3.0 earthquake.
But then the all details came. For a single event, this one breaks the Richter, and exposes the state of the democracy created in America’s image.
Is it really all that better since Marcos?
From afar, the mass, organized by the Philippine American Press Club of San Francisco, was a good first response.
Phil Bronstein, the editor-at-large of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Bay Area’s premier newspaper was among the speakers. Phil’s work made him a finalist for the Pulitizer. He said Maguindanao reminded him of the danger while covering Marcos.
“I had a few people threaten me so I felt briefly that discomforting sometimes scary sense of mortality and vulnerability,” Bronstein told the audience. “ But I could also leave anytime I want and come home.”
It was his way of describing the difference between the American on assignment and the native journalist,whose daily work is an act of courage and freedom.
“This many journalists killed is an estimable losss,” Bronstein said. “The work of these slain journalist is a vital part of the frabirc of any democracy.”
Bronstein suggested that we “do anything to press Philippine authorities to justice in this case.”
I just don’t think Phil was suggesting the authorities do something out of the Marcos playbook: Martial Law.
Seeing Bronstein and others was like a reunion of the Marcos years. But without the hundreds and hundreds of protesters.
Still I didn’t expect Arroyo to make the analogy more relevant with her declaration of martial law in Maguindanao last week.
Sure, it’s not full martial law, pare. Oo. Just in Maguindanao.
Call it “Partial Martial.”
But there’s no such thing as being a little bit pregnant either.
The power move shows the lame-duck Arroyo certainly isn’t going gently into her good night. I thought PM was supposed to stand for “prime minister,” reportedly the next coveted position Madame Arroyo was concocting for future occupancy. That, of course, would require some changes in the Philippine democracy itself. It seems that with partial martial, Arroyo’s already applying some of her own self-serving constitutional interpretation.
She’s even using the same rule that Marcos used to invoke full-on martial law.
Pacifico Agabin, a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law, told Philippine Daily Inquirer reporters, Arroyo’s declaration is unwarranted and unnecessary.
The government has shown enough control of the situation in Maguindanao with the arrests of members of the Ampatuan family, and arms seizures.
“The only grounds for the declaration of martial law are invasion and rebellion. I don’t think the Ampatuans are capable of launching a rebellion against the government,” Agabin told the Inquirer.
He added that the constitution requires “actual rebellion,” not merely a threat. Changes to the constitution were made in 1987 to make sure another president couldn’t do as Marcos and declare martial law with a flimsy excuse.
Certainly a president can issue a “state of emergency” if need be. But to go right to martial law? Only a megalomaniac.
In this case, Arroyo has taken off her soiled velvet gloves and revealed her set of iron fists.
Did she really think it would be as becoming with the red dress?
There’s no reason for partial martial, period.
Arroyo likely feels the only way to distance her administration from her former allies the Ampatuans is to come down hard on all of Maguindanao. With partial martial, she creates the illusion of zero tolerance, whereas all along she has actually empowered the Ampatuans to do as they wish.
Partial martial also tests her power. It lets her feel the wheel of absolute control in a portion of the archipelago, and let’s her consider an option. Could she go all the way in her transgression of the constitution to perhaps to something far more self-serving—like extending her presidency for “the good of the country”? If that happens then the politician/villain can disguise herself as hero and humanitarian.
But the massacre of 58 and the extension of an unwarranted “Partial Martial” shows just how weak the Philippine democracy is. No need to be nostalgic for Marcos. Sadly, Arroyo fits the bill.