On Theologizing Martial Law: A Theology from Below


Through out the decades, the phrase, MARTIAL LAW, has been sedated in a temporal solitary confinement in our constitution for political consideration; for it has left painful memories to many Filipinos, especially among generation of baby boomers. So that when there was a looming invitation by any executive branch of government in the past to romantacize it, you could not expect a singing of hallelujah chorus from a vast strata of our populace and select politicians alike to dance with it in splendid adoration. So record speaks that after the 1972 declaration of martial law by then Pres Marcos, only two martial law proclamations was/is administered so far. The first one was on December 4, 2009 through Proclamation No. 1959, in which Pres. Arroyo officially placed Maguindanao province under military administration to avert escalation of lawless violence therein. However, the sting of martial law in Maguindanao lasted only a few days. The writ of habeas corpus, the crowning act of the bill of rights, was temporarily anesthetized (suspended) as mandated by the 1987 Constitution (Art VII, Section 8). This time, it has to be concurred by Congress with a prescription (Rx) of 60 days  (“in case of invasion or rebellion“), unless extended by the same. So the requirement for the passing of the martial law at present is rebordered with stringent mechanism like doing a doctoral dissertation in prominent schools. This is the new face of martial law in the Philippines

President Rodrigo Duterte, likewise, followed suit through Proclamation No. 216 placing the entire Mindanao under martial law in response to the attacks by Maute group in Marawi City last May 23. Some concerned citizens tried to maul this Proclamation through a petition lodged in the Supreme Court. But just exactly two days ago, SC upheld martial law of Pres. Duterte as constitutional.

Is there a need for martial law? Is it not that democracy is sufficient antibody to rebellion and invasion when public safety is at the verge of being roasted in a more fiery and demonic furnace of fire? Can democracy still afford to protect its own people under these threats? The answers are painted in multi- colors.  Insertion of martial law clause in our constitution is indeed a new added political paradigm or flavor to our darling democracy.

The framers of our constitution were very prophetic in their foresight that total dismantling of martial law due to bad-taste reference of 1972 martial law hype might still place the country under terminal ill condition when beset by highly innovative forms of violence where even the devil himself could hardly stomach. But true to the intent of the framers of the Philippine constitution, President Duterte must have exceeded their glorified expectations.

In my recent itineraries to nearby cities in Mindanao the men and women in uniform are as courteous and gentle as a lamb in manning checkpoints even at the curses of the sun. The civilians, on the other hand, are just as obedient as school children when subjected to searches at the checkpoint. Everything turns out to be peaceful. So martial law turns only angelic when the leader consecrate himself or herself to the overall interest and welfare of its helpless constituents.This is the summum bonum of this so called government of/by/for the people. Other than that, martial law would be a disaster. This “Mr. President” is truly deserving to its title or position. He may be harsh at times in his words (his innate impulses. Trump has these impulses too) toward his critics (much more to the enemies of the state), but at the end of the day you have to listen to what his heart is speaking. Mindanao and the whole country are one with the President. His heart and soul project those of the majority. And to savor a trust rating of 75% after one year in office is still unprecedented, although the President chooses not to worship it.  Anyway,  most of his life in school revolved around it (75% rating), joked the President in some of his public utterances.

Martial law can work best under the pretext of democracy. Because democracy alone invites an easy prey to people who would like to sow seeds of violence. Democracy has to be restructured at times when there is a clear and present danger standing at your door step. Just like infections, you have to increase dosage of antibiotics once it gets more complicated in your system, otherwise infection(s) will turn your body into a corpse. So martial law is like a high grade antibiotic drug(s) intended only for  highly sophisticated form of  political infections like invasion or rebellion. It is only administered when deemed necessary.

Philippine democracy may not be that perfect just like any other democratic countries in the world, but it is highly calibrated with martial law clause stipulated therein. After all, the fundamentals of our darling democracy are still intact. That is why staunch critics to the president like the good Senator Trillanes and others continue to enjoy that privilege without being harm or persecuted even in such a time like this when they are followed by the  shadow of martial law (when they come to Mindanao) under this present administration. Because we need that too,  though we don’t agree with them at times, to balance the dynamics of democracy, otherwise it would be nothing but plain cosmetics.

No wonder martial law works well under this context. Western people may not appreciate what we do here. That is pretty understandable because when they look at us they see us through a different lens. They don’t see us from our point of view. When you write something about the condition of the Philippines from a high rise, yet fully glass and air-conditioned building in New York, for instance, the outcome would be less authentic and genuine unless you have lived with the ordinary Filipino people in their own settings within a reasonable time. And If you want to write something of dissertation quality about the martial law in Mindanao,  go to Marawi City and live there at least for one year or so. Don’t depend on field reporters. Their mindset could be as worst as yours. One author once said (which I read somewhere in time) that we differ not from the choices we make but from the way we see things.

So that when I look at these almost everyday horrifying shooting incidents in the US or the latest acts of terrorism in UK, harnessing my point of view with Pres. Duterte on my mind, I can say that their democracy may be outdated or their leaders are probably detached from realities. We only hear best condolences. But the pain of losing a loved one(s) by a parent or a friend in such a horrible and Luciferic situation cannot be assuaged by plain political rhetorics. You have to do something! Change or modify laws if necessary in order to bite realities in the ground. But then again, you might think I’m crazy. Remember, I’m seeing it through my vested lens. Hence, my judgment may be invalid as yours to some degree, unless I have fully immersed myself  into this proverb, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” And from the same latitude of discourse, I succinctly say,  theology from above is only felt in the bones when you see it from below.

This is my  “existential realization,” to borrow the phrase of Karl Rahner.

Welcome to the Philippines! Life is beautiful here!

Note: Full mastication of this too elementary piece of his mind will appear in his upcoming book project, The Idiot Explains.