WE SHOULD have seen it coming.

This, after all, is an administration that has, from day one, worked hard to secure an iron grip on power by undermining rule of law and the checks and balances crucial to democracy, coupled with the utterly brutal “war on drugs” that has been more about spreading fear than stamping out the scourge in whose name it is supposedly waged.

If anything, the government of President Rodrigo Duterte has proven itself adept at finding pretexts for imposing its draconian will. And once a foothold has been gained, to tenaciously hold and expand on this.

Take Proclamation No. 55, “Declaring a State of National Emergency on Account of Lawless Violence in Mindanao,” which Duterte issued on September 4, 2016, two days after the Davao City bombing. He was, of course, totally justified to declare an emergency.

But “national”? And note that the proclamation “shall remain in force and effect until lifted or withdrawn by the President,” which he has not done in the two years since its issuance.

In fact, Duterte referred to Proclamation No. 55 when he placed the whole of Mindanao under martial law when fighting broke out in Marawi City on May 23 in 2017.

Several times since then, after getting a rubberstamp Congress to twice extend martial law and the Armed Forces pushing for a three-peat, he has threatened to expand its coverage elsewhere, this time invoking the communist insurgency, whose stubbornness and resilience is bound to be a source of endless vexation for a bully used to having others bow to his will – even if he himself is in the habit of disappearing from international events where he risks crossing the paths of bigger fellows he bravely curses from home.

But attempting to expand martial law beyond Mindanao runs the risk of inviting more resistance than Duterte might be prepared or able to handle. Bullies often are that way.

Then again, why bother with the formalities when they can simply invoke Proclamation No. 55 and extend its coverage beyond the South?

And so, on September 22, Malacañang issued Memorandum Order (MO) No. 32, which invokes Proclamation No. 55 and Memorandum Order No. 3, which provides the guidelines for implementing the proclamation.

MO 32 orders more troops and police personnel deployed to Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Samar, and the Bicol Region “to suppress lawless violence and acts of terror” in these areas and “prevent such violence and prevent these “from spreading and escalating elsewhere in the country.”

True, there have been recent insurgency-related incidents in these places. But surely there have been worse in the half-century since the communists mounted their armed struggle, one, we should be reminded, ballooned from a ragtag band of guerrillas into a nationwide fighting force because of the depredations of the dictatorship established by Ferdinand Marcos who, ironically, invoked the communist threat to place the country under military rule.

But Negros Occidental? Aside from the deaths of two soldiers and injuries to six others in a clash in Kabankalan City in May, the only other incident cited by Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo was the October 20 massacre of nine persons, including two teenagers, at a camp set up by the National Federation of Sugar Workers for a “bungkalan” campaign in Hacienda Nene, Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City.

As if the undue haste with which security officials concluded, even if they were nowhere near here, that the New People’s Army was responsible for the Sagay massacre, never mind if these same officials branded the NFSW a “legal front” of the rebels, was not bad enough, the government seeks to punish us, as well, by sending more armed forces on what is clearly a false pretext.

This is the real emergency. This is an insult that should be denounced by all Negrosanon who value justice and human rights.

Already, there are indications of what expanding the national emergency’s coverage to the province is bound to bring.

After the murder of human rights lawyer Ben Ramos in Kabankalan on November 6, Clarizza Singson of Karapatan-Negros received text messages saying she, Rolando Rillo and Christian Tuayon of the NFSW, and Noli Rosales of the Kilusang Mayo Uno would be next.

Then colleagues of Ramos in the National Union of People’s Lawyers who motored to Sipalay to honor him and attend his burial on September 18 were tailed and threatened by two Army intelligence agents.

And just late last week, two staff workers – Felipe Levy Gelle Jr. and Enrita Caniendo – of the Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group, which Ramos founded, received a nasty surprise. Pieces of paper printed with pictures showing their faces inside coffins and the words “Subong Gina amat amat na namun kamo. Kamo na ang madison,” were thrown inside the home of the leader of one of the farmers’ groups PDG assists.

But if there is anything recent history has – or should have – taught us, it is that force of arms will never vanquish an awakened people struggling for social justice. All it will succeed in doing is stoke the social volcano.