MANAGING the impromptu pronouncements of a firebrand principal like President Rodrigo Duterte could be a continuing nightmare for his spokesmen.

After the Commander-in-Chief announced in a speech before the Davao Chamber of Commerce and Industry that he was willing to declare martial law to protect the Filipino people from the deadly effects of illegal drugs and narco-politics, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar and Spokesman Ernesto Abella had to scramble to control the backlash. Despite Andanar’s protestations that the president was taken out of context and misquoted, official transcript of the speech indeed shows that Duterte clearly uttered his intention and willingness to defy the system of check and balance provided for in the Constitution if the situation deteriorates “into something really very virulent.”

Is the declaration of martial law warranted at this point in the nation’s history? The simple answer is no because resorting to such extreme measure would be an admission that he has failed in his campaign despite the enormous powers of the presidency. With a very high approval rating and a super majority in Congress, Duterte does not need a bullet to shoot himself in the head. He can very well do as he pleases and his supporters would applaud to high heavens notwithstanding the absurdity of some of his populist directives. Why, even the widespread outcry of his local and international critics cannot dampen his popularity among Filipinos, more than 6,000 of whom have so far become victims of drug-related killings. If he implements his plan he would have tarnished his legacy with an unnecessary vehicle that could breed more human rights abuses and bring untold sufferings to the very people he vowed to preserve.

If it is any consolation, in a recent survey by Pulse Asia, 74 per cent of Filipinos said they do not approve of the declaration of martial law. This fear of military rule is no doubt borne out of the horrific experiences of the Marcos era where countless Filipinos suffered abuses at the hands of thugs in combat fatigues. The specter of martial law sends on its end the hair in any peace loving citizen’s neck.

Duterte does not need this hot potato of abhorrence in his presidential hands. At the present time he has done everything, orthodox and otherwise, to advance his political agenda with nary a dent in his approval rating. In other words, he is fine where he is now. Various regional publications have in fact hailed him as one of the most influential, if not powerful, leaders in Asia. Most importantly, Filipinos overwhelmingly approve of the way he has brought change and hope to their erstwhile lonely existence.

The country’s economy is the fastest growing in the region and is expected to grow further the rest of his term. He has introduced measures to the delight of ordinary Filipinos including free irrigation, increase in Social Security System retirement benefits, free college education, and others. He has shown his seriousness in curbing corruption, setting himself as a living example of incorruptibility by leading a frugal life.

This early he has already cemented himself as having the makings of a great president and leader of a great country in the making. Declaring martial law at any point in his presidency will only serve to tarnish an otherwise promising tenure as the country’s 16th president.

But as a lawyer, Duterte is too wise for his detractors. He is only testing the political waters, wanting to see how far he can get away with his antics. Filipinos should by now get used to a president who just likes to “exaggerate” his hyperboles to put his message across. He does not really intend to do as he has announced.

Fingers crossed.