By: Ruben Almendras
The longest Martial law in the Philippines was declared 47 years ago in Sept. 21, 1972 and it lasted for 14 years. It is annually commemorated and recollected to remind people of those years in the hope that it will never happen again. With the advent of the rapid infotech developments, the spread of fake news, and historical revisionism, it makes sense to record the actual events and realities of those times, and also to preserve lessons for the future. The University of the Philippines recently approved a three-unit subject as an elective subject for their undergraduate courses.
There were sporadic martial law declarations in the Philippines during the Spanish times when the Filipinos would revolt against authorities. Martial law was also declared for a short period during the onset of WWII, and the Japanese practically ruled the Philippines under martial law for the duration of the occupation. In more recent times, Arroyo declared martial law in Maguindanao during the search and arrest of the Ampatuans for a week, and Duterte put Mindanao under martial law last year until now.
De facto martial law also exists in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia, China, Zimbabwe, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and many countries in varying degrees of duration and severity. Martial law rule happens from both ends of the ideological spectrum. The communists, the socialists, and assorted rightest dictators are as prone or eager to impose martial law to stay in power.
The Philippines is among the countries that experienced an extended, severe, and brutal martial rule together with Zimbabwe, Haiti, and North Korea. The experiences in the Philippines and these countries may be representative of the socio-political effects of long-term martial rule.
The extensive restriction on civil rights and liberties, human rights abuses, lack of press freedom, suppression of social dissent, one-party dominance, no real elections, social immobility, and the unjustified imprisonment and killings are direct effects of long-term martial law. The longer martial law is in place, the more severe and brutal the abuses of the authorities.
Martial law is disastrous on the economy. The more it encroaches on the free enterprise market mechanism, the slower the economic growth, then stagnation and recession. These are currently demonstrated in Venezuela, Libya, Zimbabwe, Turkey, and some other countries.
Government dominance in the economy in the public and private sectors distorts markets/income distribution and leads to cronyism. The restricted economic liberties stifle initiative and discourage entrepreneurship. Technical and scientific innovation from within and from outside are limited due to uncertain intellectual property protection and an uneven justice system.
There is a realization of these negative consequences of long-term martial law, that many authoritarian controlled countries are moving to a softer kind of martial law which is less repressive that allows for economic freedom and a functioning market economy. The United Arab Emirates like Dubai, Qatar, and most of the Middle Eastern countries are in this direction. So are China, Russia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and many eastern European countries. The current demonstrations in Hong Kong are an example of this trend and the need to achieve a balance between authoritarianism and economic freedom. In my recent trips to China and Vietnam, the political suppression is not felt by foreigners and are only slightly imposed on the citizens, except for the high-profile dissidents. Although Beijing does exercise a heavy hand in many instances due to the hardliners in the politburo, they seem to be more even-handed in the case of Hong Kong, or they are in a quandary on how to handle the situation. It seems to me, the only answer to an abusive and extended martial law is really “People Power”.