EVERY anniversary of martial law routinely evokes thoughts of that dark period in Philippine history. But these days when a state of lawless violence is declared in the land and protagonists in a bitter feud are locked on the issue of excess or abuse of authority, it's no longer the usual commemorative talk.

n President Duterte appears to have been flirting with martial law as a tool in his war against illegal drugs and other crimes. A few days ago, he said: "Sa totoo lang, kung ganoon lang (if I were the president at the height of the Bilibid drug trade) I would've declared martial law."

n Sen. Leila de Lima believes that Duterte's anti-drug offensive is martial law minus the formal declaration, taking solace only about its end: "Like what happened in the Marcos regime in 1986, all dictatorships would come to an end..."

It wouldn't last forever? Under Marcos it took 14 agonizing years.

Duterte has used the Bilibid prison crisis as standard. Which should give people an idea that he might not wait for widespread lawlessness before he'd declare martial law.

But isn't martial law regulated under the 1987 Constitution? Only if the president couldn't get military support. With the armed forces enforcing his orders, those safeguards are mere words in statute books.

With martial law already operative in de Lima's eyes, she regards the intense campaign to harass and vilify her as flexing of authoritarian muscles.

Technically, she's wrong. What's happening in Congress is the usual tyranny of numbers in a democracy: the super-majority inhibiting the Senate inquiry that smears Duterte but allowing the House probe that hangs de Lima.

Idle talk?

Martial law might just be idle talk. But recognizing the danger and acting on it might help avert the upheaval that struck a clueless and hapless nation four decades ago.