..."Unsettling things happened on Duterte's way to SONA 2"

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How many of the national figure of 8,200 homicide cases under investigation, according to official police records, have seen some progress?

The largely unchecked rash of violence has earned the Philippines a dubious distinction: the second least peaceful country in the Asia-Pacific, next only to North Korea, according to the Global Peace Index. Malacañang has dismissed that finding outright: “What we know from local polls is that 75 percent of Filipinos are happy with the Duterte administration’s performance,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.

Abella made no mention of another finding by a local poll—that, despite their general support for the war on drugs, 8 out of 10 Filipinos fear that they, or their loved ones, could fall victim to the extrajudicial killings blighting the country.(PDI Editorial 2/22/17)

The untruth about martial law

When martial law was proclaimed over the entirety of Mindanao last May, we sought to debunk the myths that had quickly coagulated, like blood, around the proclamation. We identified four untruths: First, that martial law in Mindanao is of concern only to people living in Mindanao. Second, that those expressing their opposition to or even mere concern over the possible consequences of martial law did not care about the conflict in Marawi City or the large-scale problems that persist in Mindanao. Third, that martial law is the answer to Mindanao’s problems. And fourth, that martial law can be used to solve criminality in Mindanao.

All these were untrue, and even the Supreme Court decision that found there was sufficient factual basis for the President to issue the proclamation effectively debunked at least three of them. Only the third myth we identified, that martial law was the answer to Mindanao’s problems, was arguably left intact by the ruling. In different ways, 14 of the 15 justices justified the use of the commander in chief’s martial law powers in either all of Mindanao, or parts of it.

But like others who have raised their voices, we question the sweeping authority the Court essentially granted President Duterte to impose martial law elsewhere in the Philippines, as long as an actual rebellion or invasion was taking place and public safety required its imposition. This is a direct contravention of the letter of the Constitution and the intent of the framers of the Constitution—while paying tribute to the new, more rigorously constructed facade of the Constitution, the idea sneaks the outdated concept of imminent danger through the legal back door.

The fifth untruth of martial law then: That an extension is needed to stop the Mautes in Marawi and other terror groups in Mindanao. Bishop Edwin dela Peña said he supported the initial imposition of martial law. “The first martial law declaration was fine but if they are going to use Marawi again to justify its extension, I don’t think it’s right.” (PDI 7/21/17)

Ignored victory?

China had not only rejected the tribunal’s ruling despite being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, under which the arbitration case was heard; it also defied world opinion by upping the ante, constructing military facilities on three islands in the disputed region that have now allowed it to potentially deploy military forces and exercise an effective lockdown over the vital waters.

While other claimant countries have continued to protest Beijing’s muscle-flexing, the Philippines, the main beneficiary of the tribunal’s ruling, has instead chosen rapprochement with China by, first of all, “setting aside” the historic decision. That was how President Duterte worded his rebooted foreign policy, under which the Philippines would be silent for now on its legal claim, in exchange for billions of dollars in loans and financial commitments from its giant economic neighbor. The President sees it as a pragmatic arrangement: The Philippines is in no shape to fight China militarily, and so must assume a less provocative, more suppliant position.

Meanwhile, China’s encroachment and increasing control over the WestPhilippine Sea continues.

Only time will tell if the Duterte administration’s strategy over this invaluable piece of national patrimony is correct, or if in fact, as Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said, it “dropped the ball.” (PDI 7/15/17)



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