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WILL THERE BE MARTIAL LAW?
By Napoleon G. Rama
January 30, 1971—His theme was sobriety and unity in the hour of crisis; his delivery, cool and slow; his tone, soft and supplicating. But the words were intimidating.
“If violence continues, if there should be massive sabotage, if there should be terrorism, if there is assassination, I will have no other alternative but to utilize the extraordinary powers granted me by our Constitution. These powers are the power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus under which [suspension] any man can be arrested and detained any length of time; and the power to declare any part or the whole of the Philippines under martial law. These powers I do not wish to utilize and it is for this reason I appeal to our people tonight.”
With just this one paragraph President Marcos spoiled what could have been one of his best speeches, certainly the most impressive TV performance since he spoke before the US Congress.
All throughout the first 20 minutes of his speech—a persuasive plea for restraint and understanding—he displayed style and coolness under fire, until he struck the jarring chords. Thus, the newspaper headlines the next day couldn’t help but scream the frightening words: “martial law.” Instead of calm, the speech succeeded in spreading alarm throughout the breadth and width of the nation.
Weeks after he made the speech and after the jeepney drivers ended their strike, political quarters, campuses, coffee shops and wherever people gathered were still abuzz with the dreaded words—articulated sometimes in anger but mostly in fear.
School tots come home asking their mommies what’s this “martial law” their teachers were talking about in grave and fearful tones.
Opposition leaders bristle with counter-warnings and charges of goon mentality against the President.
Student leaders answered him with threats of larger and more violent demonstrations.
Religious leaders chide the President and invite him to look into what ails the nation, at the rampant social injustice that spawns social unrest.
Constitutional Convention delegates feverishly hold emergency meetings to plot out their moves in case martial law is declared.
For all the efforts of the President (buried in the inside pages of the dailies) to quiet the anxieties and allay fears, the nervous talk goes on. There has been, said the President, a misreading of his statement. He had stressed certain conditions before he would declare martial law. The present drift of events, he now said, does not lead to those conditions.
The reason he mentioned martial law in his speech, he explained, was to warn radicals about the consequences of their acts, to stop further violence which, he said, was about to crop up.
He branded as irresponsible the threat of LP Congress leaders to boycott the sessions of Congress if Marcos declared military rule in the country or any part of it.
“Ridiculous” was the word he used to describe speculations that he would manipulate the present situation to bring about the conditions which would justify the imposition of martial law.
What probably upset the President more than anything else was the damning reaction of leaders of his own party.
The proclamation of martial law, declared the top NP leader in the House of Representatives, Speaker Jose B. Laurel, would be “an admission of weakness” on the part of the government.
“It would seem that the situation has become uncontrollable and unless martial law is proclaimed the government cannot function,” he said.
The Speaker pointed out that although under the Constitution the President may proclaim martial law without first getting the consent of Congress, he has to meet certain constitutional requirements.
“Legally, the issuance of a proclamation on martial law may be questioned before the Supreme Court,” Laurel said.
In harsher tones, he called President Marcos’s “veiled threats” untimely and uncalled for.
He said that there are many “fence-sitters” now merely critical of the Administration.
“The moment martial law is declared,” he said, “and they suspect that they are on the list of people to be picked up by the military, they will go to the hills.”
Senate Majority Floor Leader Arturo Tolentino commented:
“Definitely, there is no justification yet to impose martial law.”
In a meeting with his Congress leaders in the Palace, the President’s talk of martial law drew a similar reaction from NP solons: no good! Several NP congressmen and senators warned the President that the imposition of martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus might only worsen the already critical situation.
Sen. Leonardo Perez, one of the Marcos stalwarts in the Senate, said that military rule would be ill-advised for the moment.
In a hurriedly convened caucus, the LPs came up with a plan to boycott the session of Congress if President Marcos declared martial law and suspended the writ of habeas corpus. They elaborated that even if they went on leave, they will continue to discharge their duties and responsibilities….
In the mountains?
Sen. Gerry Roxas, LP president, said that the LP solons will continue to fiscalize the government outside the halls of Congress and will resume attending the session only upon restoration of the normal process of civil government. They will refuse to be identified with the government the moment it declares martial law.
Read the LP manifesto:
“WE BELIEVE THAT A DECLARATION OF MARTIAL LAW OR THE SUSPENSION OF THE PRIVILEGE OF THE WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS IS INTENDED TO ELIMINATE ALL OPPOSITIONS; TO SUPPRESS DISSENT; FREE SPEECH, AND FREE PRESS, ALL CIVIL LIBERTIES, AND INSTALL A FASCIST DICTATORSHIP THROUGHOUT THE LAND.”
On the other hand, several delegates to the Constitutional Convention voiced their determination to continue holding pre-convention meetings and convention sessions, once opened formally, and risk life and limb in defense of the Constitutional Convention.
The most interesting comment came from churchmen. Isabelo de los Reyes, supreme bishop of the Philippine Independent Church, said that the President must have gotten the wrong advice, hence, his gross indiscretion.
He warned that the imposition of military rule would only “boomerang” on the President.
Fr. Horacio de la Costa, historian and former provincial of the Society of Jesus, said that the establishment of military rule would subvert the Constitutional Convention and only invite the very perils that the President would want to avoid—anarchy and communism.
Bishop de los Reyes suggested that the President unbend and mix with the people without displaying military force, to “show that he trusts his own people and that his own people trust him.”
The bishop was for attacking the disease and not the symptoms. He said that no democratic nation could subsist without social justice.
“Lack of social justice causes social unrest,” he argued.
“While President Marcos exalts the duties of the people towards the Republic,” he added, “young students and jeepney drivers exalt human rights and believe that social victory, permanent social victory, will come only through loyalty towards principles, justice, truth, sacrifice—and constancy in sacrifice.”
He went on:
“While the police and the army are ready to kill but not to die for a salary, our students and jeepney drivers, with a common devotion to social justice, are ready to fight and die side by side for their principles.
“This is no time for mediocrity anywhere in the government.
“Let our President show his grandeur not by words but by deeds; by showing himself a statesman who believes, speaks, and acts without anger to help the people recover from a long and somber period of economic desperation.”
Father de la Costa expressed concern over the coming Constitutional Convention. If the President, he said, opted for military rule, it could nullify all chances of the Constitutional Convention drawing up the radical but peaceful reforms that are needed and instead invite anarchy.
The Jesuit scholar, speaking before a seminar for newsmen, said that one of the immediate national objectives should be to ensure the holding of the Constitutional Convention, scheduled to open June 1 if not earlier. The imposition of martial law at this time is not necessary and will make the attainment of this objective impossible.
“The Convention must open under conditions that will permit it, in freedom, to at least initiate the radical structural changes in our government and society which will permit rapid progress towards both social justice and socioeconomic development,” he said.
Should martial law be imposed, the Convention could fall by the wayside, he warned, and another avenue for peaceful dialogue, for reaching a national consensus for reforms, would thereby be closed.
The press and other media and citizen groups should move together to impress on President Marcos the disastrous consequences of military government, the Jesuit priest added.
He forecast that if martial law came, it would polarize the people and could lead to anarchy, authoritarian rule, or even, possibly, a communist takeover. The repression implicit in martial law will effectively block the kind of national dialogue that is needed, he said.
The principal student organizations and adult citizen groups should be invited by the press, radio and TV to clarify both their thinking and their public statements and the meaning, the objectives, the advisability or the necessity of revolution, he suggested.
President Marcos’s opponent in the last elections, Sen. Sergio Osmeña Jr., warned that martial law might be “the trigger that could spark a bloody revolution.” The threat of martial law would make a bigger mess of the national economy already in a shambles. Martial law “would make more unfavorable the climate for business and capital, thereby aggravating the serious economic difficulties now confronting the country.”
Osmeña damned the brutal action taken by government troops against the demonstrating students. Granting, he said, that the explosions were caused by infiltrators, did they constitute sufficient provocation for the government troops to act as they did?
“It would have been enough for them to use tear gas to disperse the crowd,” he said. “But they went much further than that, as if their being in uniform and having guns gave them the license to kill at the slightest excuse.”
Indeed, the most intriguing feature of the Plaza Miranda incident where four were killed during the jeepney driver-student demonstration was the use of Armalites by rampaging government troops—not just to disperse but to gun down student demonstrators who were already on the run.
It was a ruthless departure from the agreed and civilized formula of employing truncheons or tear gas which proved so effective in the demonstrations middle of last year. This time, it seems, there was a deliberate plan to crush demonstrations by brutal force and terrorism—to give the demonstrators a lesson and a preview of what would happen in future demonstrations?
It was a peaceful demonstration until late in the afternoon when a pillbox was exploded somewhere in Plaza Miranda. This was followed by shots fired into the sky. At this stage, everyone was scampering out of Plaza Miranda, seeking cover. In a jiffy, national government troops, replacing the Manila policemen, invaded the plaza. In five minutes, or just before the troops armed with Armalites poured into Plaza Miranda, both the students and the on-lookers had emptied the plaza and spilled into Quezon Boulevard and the side streets. TV cameras showed that the troops were not there just to disperse the crowd but to give chase to demonstrators running for their lives away from the plaza.
A TV replay showed a soldier aiming and shooting at demonstrators who were no longer in Plaza Miranda. On the streets nearby the soldiers were engaging in mopping up operations, not to scatter a defiant crowd but, it seems, to hunt and shoot down those running away from the demonstration site. The scene was undistinguishable from a war operation in Vietnam: soldiers in single file, in crouching position, ears and eyes alert, trigger-happy fingers ready to shoot at the slightest noise or motion of the enemy.
But there is a difference. In Vietnam, government and American soldiers carry Armalites only in battle or mopping up operations. They don’t use the terrible weapon for police work—as did our troopers at Plaza Miranda.
Foreigners were shocked to see Armalite-carrying soldiers employed by the national government to break demonstrations by students who were not even armed. Why did the government abandon the civilized manner of controlling demonstrators in favor of the monstrous method? Why were truncheon-bearing soldiers conspicuously absent in that Plaza Miranda demonstration?
What is Malacañang up to?
It’s now evident that the net result of the President’s veiled threat of imposing martial law has alienated many of his political allies, if not the whole nation. None of his top lieutenants in the party has come up endorsing the presidential statement. Everyone of them thought the President made a costly tactical blunder in making such a threat, despite his cushioning conditions for suspending the writ of habeas corpus or imposing martial law. Worse, even the moderates who frown upon violent demonstrations are having second thoughts. Many of them are gravitating toward the radical group, the extremists.
The impression conveyed is that the President will resist reforms, hence the idea of martial law to defend the status quo— Marcos style. In political quarters, the martial law idea is seen as a Marcos formula for perpetuating himself in office—at all costs! All are agreed that, as things are, neither the President nor the First Lady can hope to stay in Malacañang after 1973, even if they succeeded in rigging the Constitutional Convention into drawing up a constitution permitting an expansion of his term or succession by the First Lady to his office. If they can’t stay in Malacañang beyond 1973 by popular election, then the only remedy is to place the whole country under a military dictatorship, with Marcos the dictator, being the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
That is, to stay in power not by ballot but by bullet.
If the President entertained such a notion, he would be smart to drop it. Military rule would need the support of some segment of the population to maintain itself. As things stand now, almost everyone is against the idea of martial law. You can’t just defy the whole nation and survive. The armed forces would carry out orders to fight certain segments of the population but not the whole population. When ordered to terrorize the nation and repress the rights of all on flimsy grounds, the armed forces would surely think twice before obeying such orders. It is doubtful that the majority of the military brass warms up to the idea of martial law.
The loyalty of the military men to the President is still to be tested. The defection of a Philippine Military Academy instructor, Lieutenant Corpus, should give an inkling of the shaky hold of the Establishment on the military brass. It’s significant that after Lieutenant Corpus defected, the President felt compelled to order a loyalty check in the armed forces, including a cloak-and-dagger once-over of the headquarters of the Chief of the Philippine Constabulary.
A government by martial law must be premised on indubitable loyalty of the military to the ruler decreeing the martial law and substantial popular support. Hitler and Mussolini had such loyalty and support. And the fact is, the President himself is not quite sure of the loyalty of the armed forces when the chips are down—and certainly not the support of the people.