PRESIDENT Duterte has been alternately putting on and off the table, in varying degrees of enthusiasm, the option of declaring martial law.
He endorses it, using it as a threat (“Would I rather declare martial law?”). He rejects it, dismissing the need (“Not necessary”).
Lately, he wants conditions: that the Constitution be rid of safeguards on martial law, including limits on duration, reporting to Congress and legislature’s right to extend or scrap.
Then U.S. president George W. Bush said it would be a lot easier to govern as a dictator but in the same breath he recognized the danger. The joke (“hehehe”) is that as dictator he wouldn’t be sure if he could handle absolute power.
Significantly, Filipinos in a Dec. 6-11 Pulse Asia poll released this week opposed (74% to 12%, 3 out of 4) the use of martial law to solve our crises.
We are wary about granting emergency powers that do away with biddings or cut corners in spending public funds. We suspect they might be abused. More so if what are taken away are basic rights if habeas corpus is suspended or martial law imposed.
One after the other, it could come, ostensibly for public good. Suspend the writ, then declare martial law, later set up a revolutionary government. Like a woman seducing by striptease: discard this piece of garment, show that bit of flesh -- each leading to complete seduction when the man can no longer resist even when he wants to.
Constitutionalists fear the worse if the stages were cut to one: abolish democracy and replace it with a revolutionary government. Then president Cory Aquino did it in 1986. But it was produced by a revolution, precisely to end the Marcos martial law. Not now, when we have had a functioning democratic government for the last 30 years.
That government, to be sure, has exposed its flaws and done some epic mistakes. But the nation must see the folly of going through once again the dangerous and uncertain years when power was concentrated on one person, his kin and friends.