Wednesday, 9 December 2009

BM Editorial: First, do homework

Business Mirror

WAS it a case of knee-jerk reaction from sectors deeply traumatized by the Marcos martial law? Or, quite possibly an “and/or” proposition, some of the critics of the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao province were burned as well by the failure of the incumbent President to keep her political promises, i.e., that she won’t run again?

Whatever it is, the credibility factor is obviously part of what’s driving the firestorm of protest against Proclamation 1959, notwithstanding persistent claims by civil and military authorities that the martial-law declaration is hastening the resolution of the watershed event—the November 23 Ampatuan massacre of 57 civilians, including 30 journalists—that provoked the issuance of Proclamation 1959 in the first place.

On its face, it’s easy to understand the heatedness and breadth of the outcry against the declaration, which was joined even by some of the business groups that said it’s bad for business because it signals the state’s total inability to guarantee a stable investment climate, without having to use extreme powers. The protest wasn’t helped at all by the cocky disregard by Speaker Prospero Nograles of calls for Congress to convene, to examine the factual basis of martial law and then proceed to revoke it, if the basis proves inadequate; otherwise, to let it stand for the period sought, 60 days. The two chambers, after much debate, are finally meeting today (Wednesday), but the damage to public confidence in our institutions could have been avoided if Nograles et al. had not been too cavalier about the matter.

Which is not to say, however, that the critics of the martial-law declaration are absolutely correct in their arguments. For one, the criticisms came even before anyone had read the legally mandated report to Congress by the Executive, detailing the factual basis for the proclamation. The report was sent Monday, as required by law, and it is hoped—if lawmakers keep their focus—that they can go through the arguments systematically, demanding that resource persons justify or document the claims made—especially about how there was a virtual paralysis of the civilian government and court operations, and an imminent threat from armed groups massing up, presumably to attack state troops.

That there is a division of views even among the key people who have long invested so much personal effort in promoting peace and development in Mindanao, such as the bishops, businessmen and some local leaders, indicates that the situation on the ground is not that simple and clear-cut, especially for Manila-based analysts, to consider. That division is healthy, because it signals that most people are willing to scrutinize this matter very thoroughly, keeping an open mind about what is really best for the people in the province. After all, they have been marginalized for so long, even as their powerful, well-armed leaders have amassed wealth beyond their wildest dreams.

Certain things, off-hand, need to be answered: One, what is that distinct advantage that martial law has that cannot or has not allowed the “state of emergency” declaration to accomplish in terms of hastening justice for the massacre victims, dismantling private armies, and stabilizing the situation all around? Two, why the seeming contradictions, in a matter of a few days, in the pronouncements of officials from the interior department, the justice department, the Armed Forces and the Supreme Court, with regard to the impaired operations of civilian and court offices?

A quick perusal of GMA’s report to Congress is replete with chilling details not just of the November 23 massacre, but also of the aftermath: of armed groups massing up, civilian offices refusing to function (example cited: civilian registrars refusing to issue death certificates to the families of the victims, thus hindering the filing of cases), and courts and prosecution arms rendered inutile. All the claims entered in the Executive’s report to Congress are matters of fact that can be validated or disputed, and the sooner this is done, the better. After all, when Congress has done its constitutional duty to scrutinize the martial-law declaration, the bigger tasks must be pursued, and must not be forgotten and obscured—persecuting the killers, keeping armed groups in check, and restoring all vital services. In the case of the latter, this might even be a good time to determine why, with billions in local budgets and foreign aid poured into the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, it lags behind other regions in crucial indicators of human development.

This imperative to methodically sift through the basis for Proclamation 1959 apparently impelled the Supreme Court decision to stay its hand and not issue a temporary restraining order, as sought by some petitioners—until after Congress has done its job. Now that everyone has said his piece, it’s homework time.

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