Media News Analysis

Media’s “martial” mischief

The anti-Duterte media’s at it again, pursuing their plan of dividing the Philippines in the faint hope that, if they can sow enough dissent in the country, they can get its popular democratically elected president removed from office and replace him with one of their liking – in other words, someone from the Liberal camp.

The latest attempt – used by the BBC, Newsweek, Voice of America, The New York Times, NBC, the Guardian and many more – raises the spectre of martial law, an issue guaranteed to cause concern among the Filipino population.

Based on remarks concerning the War on Drugs, made by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as he addressed a chamber of commerce function in his home town of Davao City on the southern island of Mindanao on Saturday, they claimed that the Philippines is being “threatened” with the imposition of martial law. Obviously, they didn’t send their correspondents to that function; they picked up local coverage of the event and editorialised it for their own purposes – which is what they commonly do.

What Duterte actually said was: “If I have to declare martial law, I will declare it … I will declare martial law to preserve my nation, period”. That is not a statement of intent and certainly not a “threat” as many headlines described it. The president was not unveiling some ‘Martial Plan’.

He was, however, sending a very clear signal that he’s prepared to go to any lengths to rid his country of a crippling illegal-drug wave that has the potential of reducing the Philippines to a narco state like Colombia in South America or Guinea-Bissau in Africa.

“No one can stop me. My country transcends everything else [Congress and the Supreme Court] – even the limitations,” he said. The limitations he was alluding to concern the 60-day ceiling placed on the deployment of martial law under the Constitution which also states that it can only be used to deal with acts of invasion or rebellion.

Let’s spell that out for the manipulative media. It means that he will put the interests of his people above all other considerations, including the political machinations of the Philippines’ Legislative Branch and its Judiciary. What he’s not saying – which the media continually implies; according to them Duterte has some sort of Caesar Complex – is that he wants to subjugate the country by military rule. And that’s not so and couldn’t be further from the truth. His purpose in all this is to bring peace and stability by taking the barangays out of the hands of the drug firms and their thugs and returning them to the law-abiding people.

This doesn’t mean that martial law is off Duterte’s table. It’s not. The Volatilian™ said months ago that it would always be an option in the war on narcotics; that it could never be ruled out. The scale of the enemy and its resources to fight it show clearly that this is a formidable foe. Furthermore, there can’t be any partial victory; if that’s all that’s achieved the drug lords would simply regroup and return in force. They have to be vanquished. Once and for all. The press actually knows all that, but it doesn’t suit their narrative to state it. But, more importantly, they believe they can make political capital out of this conflict.

Spreading fear is a time-tested device used by covert forces to undermine governments and create civil instability. It’s one of the first pieces of kit deployed by subversive foreign operatives in situations where the end game is to topple a leader. Be under no illusion, certain Western powers are keen to see the end of Duterte – particularly since his forging of closer ties with China and Russia, the West’s two main political/ideological opponents. Also be under no illusion that the mainstream media ceased to be an independent voice a long time ago, and in many cases are the de facto mouthpieces of those powers.

The actual spectre being raised is that of military government imposed on the Philippines by former president, Ferdinand Marcos from 1972 to 1981 – a period which, though it broke the back of the communist rebellion which had threatened the country, was mired in abuse and is regarded as one of the darkest periods of the country’s history. That’s what every generation since has been taught.

And that’s a lot of people who have a deep worry about martial law who weren’t around at the time. The population of the Philippines in 1972 was just under 38 million, since then it’s leapt by 37% to over 103 million. In other words, 65 million Filipinos – the majority of the country – who never had any contact with Marcos’ martial-law provisions, but who, through the teachings of their schools and churches, are largely of the mind that it should never be repeated.

The media knows this and understands full well the effect that an article about Duterte considering similar provisions will have. In the Philippines the term, martial law, is taboo. Like uttering the devil’s name, mere mention of it is tantamount to invoking dark forces from a putrid pit of unspeakable evil. Suggesting that another president might flirt with it, they also believe, will cause alarm and weaken support for Duterte. And that’s the main purpose of the articles.

However, though this is among the most sensitive issues which Philippine society has grappled with ever since Marcos was deposed, we are not as bullish as the mainstream media and other backers of the political elites that their strategy will work at this time, in these circumstances and under this president.

Duterte has a resounding mandate from his people to do whatever’s necessary to rescue their country from the drug lords and from drugs. They believe he will always do the right thing by them. They never question that. And so, if at some future date Duterte did determine that the drug culture constituted an ‘invasion’ of his country and that the illegal-drugs industry was committing acts of ‘rebellion’ by turning the Philippines into a narco state and cutting the ground from under the legitimate government, then that option could well be taken.

Marcos wasn’t the first Philippine leader to impose martial law on the archipelago. On 30 August 1896, Spain’s Governor-General, Ramón Blanco, 1st Marquis of Peña Plata, placed eight Luzon provinces under military control as the rebellion against Spanish rule spread. The country’s first president (1899-1901), Emilio Aguinaldo, effectively imposed martial law when he appointed himself as the head of the Philippine military and installed himself as the head of a dictatorial government. At Japan’s insistence, President Jose P. Laurel brought in martial-law provisions in 1944 when the country was under Japanese occupation.

Certainly those were very different times and the enemy then was easily defined. They wore uniforms and fought a conventional war in the field; troop against troop. That’s what legitimised it. But though the optics are different, this new enemy on Philippine soil is just as deadly – arguably more so; it doesn’t confine itself to a simple battle front, it’s insidious and spreads like The Plague.

And yet over the months since Duterte assumed office, the media has failed – abysmally – in explaining the toll that drugs have taken on the country and its people, and particularly its poor people. The so-called political opposition has failed in that as well. This confirms for us – not that we required any further confirmation – that for them, Duterte’s War on Drugs is nothing more than a political opportunity to exploit for their own purposes. It has nothing to do with human rights – otherwise how could they ignore the victims of drugs – and everything to do with removing the one man who has stepped up to deal with this problem.


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