[OPINION] Martial law 'a tool to save democracy'? A response to Panelo's claims

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo described martial law as "a tool to save democracy." This comes from a man who lawyered for the Marcoses, whose patriarch Ferdinand Marcos is responsible for Martial Law from 1972 to 1981.

President Rodrigo Duterte is an admirer of Marcos. His people in government are Marcos apologists. Their brazenness is both distasteful and alarming, because it is no secret that the Marcoses plundered from and butchered the Filipino people. Philippine history attests to it, the blood of the Martial Law martyrs sealed it, the People Power Revolution of 1986 vindicated it. And even a fellow strongman, Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, confirmed it.

The more I read Panelo's statements, the more they come off as insults to the victims and survivors of Martial Law. Panelo justifies both the butcher and his knife. From the shameless Marcos burial to flaunting other accommodations for the Marcoses, the Duterte administration has shown continuous disrespect to the victims and survivors of Martial Law. (READ: Will Imelda go to jail for 77 years and other impertinent questions)

"Those who perceive that a declaration of martial law is antidemocratic is oblivious of the fact that its application is precisely the very tool to save the exercise of democracy," said Panelo. 

Who are "those who perceive" that martial law is antidemocratic?

There can be a lot of answers. But those who say strongman rule is a blessing did not suffer through Martial Law – they lived distant, apathetic, privileged lives; some of them even work for the Marcoses and benefited from their loot. 

Whose "exercise of democracy" needs saving? 

In an elite-dominated democracy like the Philippines, for whose interest does democracy really work for? Imelda Marcos remains at large despite her conviction for graft. Imee Marcos walks free despite admitting that she knew of the torture and execution of Archimedes Trajano. Land reform and anti-political dynasty provisions are hijacked by a legislature dominated by landowning political elites. (READ: The politics of the coco levy scam: From Marcos to Noynoy Aquino)

When Ferdinand Marcos publicly declared Proclamation No. 1081 on September 23, 1972, he wasn't saving the people's democracy – he was saving himself. 

Proclamation No. 1081 was dated September 21 but already signed on September 17 – proof that Juan Ponce Enrile's "ambush" and the communist threat were pretexts to disguise the dictator's plan to extend his term. At present, Duterte plays the communist scare card coupled with the drug war narrative and polarizing political maneuvers aimed to designate the broad political opposition as the common enemy.

"It is only when it is clothed with abuse by its enforcers that it becomes obnoxious," said Panelo. But who will call to account the strongman when he holds the very institutions and instruments of democracy at his bidding?

At present, martial law is extended in Mindanao while de facto martial law scourges Negros, where the persecution and killing of land reform advocates, human rights workers, farmers, and union members continue. As of date, the assassination of land reform and farmers' rights lawyer Ben Ramos remains unsolved. Who stands to benefit from his death? Who stands to gain from these deaths? Surely not the poor, not the marginalized, not the landless.

"The imposition of martial law and the abuses it spawned even as it instilled discipline among the citizenry...created a deep wound to an entire generation," said Panelo. 

Under martial law and any authoritarian rule, the trade-off for "discipline and progress" is the blatant disregard for human rights and the destruction of human lives. 

Marcos apologists and Duterte fans always point to "discipline" as the cornerstone of the nation's progress, to the point of disregarding even the rich Filipino moral heritage of pakikipagkapwa and the Christian command to uphold the dignity of human life. (READ: Marcos apologists, don't tell us to move on

Is our understanding of "discipline" that limited that we cannot imagine discipline as life-sustaining and non-violent? To be a good person is discipline. To be kind is discipline. To be loving is discipline.

Panelo's statements put forward a sinister plot: that, when the time comes, Duterte's version of martial law and strongman rule is different, that it has learned from the mistakes of Marcos and is not "clothed with abuse by its enforcers." And in so doing, this administration is trying to secure popular consent and support for an impending authoritarian regime. For just like their idol Marcos, they can fabricate and instigate something to justify the declaration of martial law.

The case against martial law and strongman rule is purpose-driven to uphold the dignity of human life. As Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges says, "Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy."

Never forget that everything that Marcos did was considered legal and that People Power was considered illegal. Never forget that the legal is not always moral. Never forget. Never again to Martial Law. – Rappler.com 

Dom Balmes is an activist-member of Dakila: Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism and a Japan Studies major at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman. As a senior millennial, he works as a communications professional in the IT-BPM industry.