What do martial law and the Abu Sayyaf have in common?
On both issues, President Rodrigo Duterte had flip-flopped, and then, flipped, or flopped, again.
On Jan. 14, before the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the president spoke of a scenario, ostensibly hypothetical, where the executive and the legislature clash with the judiciary on the matter of the imposition of martial law.
The war against illegal drugs is brought up and thrown into the mix. The president then said:
“You know I have to protect the Filipino people. I, I, it’s my duty. And I tell you now, if I have to declare martial law, I will declare it. Not about invasion, insurrection, not about danger. I will declare martial law to preserve my nation, period.“Wala akong pakialam diyan sa Supreme Court or…Because the thing, the right to preserve one’s life and my nation, my country, transcends everything else, even the limitation. Kung gusto ko, at it will deteriorate into something really very virulent, I will declare martial law if I wanted to. Walang makapigil sa akin.”
(Source: 49th Annual Installation of the Board of Trustees and Officers of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., Marco Polo Hotel, Davao City, Jan. 14, 2017, watch from 17:50 to 18:51)
A speech delivered by the president on Aug. 9 in Cagayan de Oro City contained roughly the same sentiment on martial law. Lashing out against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Duterte said:
“Please, huwag mo akong orderan. Hindi, hindi ako, hindi ako gago. If this continues, pigilan mo ako, ‘di sige. Pag nagwala na, or would you rather that I will declare martial law?”
Yet, in between was a rather contradictory take on martial law. In a speech on Dec. 1, during a local government summit in Davao City, Duterte said:
“Pero kung manggaling pa sa akin, mag-martial law, kalokohan iyan. Nag-martial law man tayo noon. Ano nangyari? Gumaling ba ang buhay natin hanggang ngayon? Wala (As for me declaring martial law, that’s nonsense. We experienced martial law and what happened? Did our lives improve? No).”
Is there a way to explain the contradictions?
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar said the president “has categorically said no to martial law.”
“The president’s remarks before the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry are clear.He mentioned declaring martial law only under the premise that the country has deteriorated into an utter state of rebellion and lawlessness.”
(Source: From Communications Secretary Martin Andanar on Duterte’s martial law remarks, Jan. 15, 2017)
Is the message on martial law clear?
In the Dec. 1 speech, although the premise was similar — religious extremism and the threat of terrorism posed by the Maute group in Mindanao — the conclusion was different. Duterte said then:
“Martial law for what? Killing people? I would rather empower every mayor.”
So, now, this is where things stand: Aug. 9, 2016 — yes to martial law ; Dec. 1, 2016 — no; Jan. 14, 2017, yes.
Interestingly, the same dynamic appears to govern the pronouncements of the president with regard to the Abu Sayyaf group: sometimes saying he is open to holding peace talks with the group, sometimes condemning them.