Martial law in the Philippines sparks human rights debate

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On December 4, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo imposed martial law in the Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines, ten days after a gruesome massacre that killed 57 individuals — 31 of whom were journalists.

The Arroyo administration claims to have implemented martial law to subdue violence by the Ampatuan warlord clan suspected of carrying out the attack.

Many Filipinos recall the island’s prior experience with martial law during the Marcos dictatorship in 1972. This ITN video from December 10th shows the protests in Manila over President Arroyo’s actions:

Global Voices contributor Karlo Mikhail Mongaya elaborates on the uneasiness over the present situation, quoting attorneys Solomon Lumba and Nepomuceno Malaluan from The Daily PCIJ about the administration’s justification of martial law:

Proclamation No. 1959 will be the first time that the structures and mechanisms that we have placed in the 1987 Constitution to check the president's discretion to declare martial law will be tested.

Congress, the Supreme Court, and we as a people should not be bound by the standards of the past under the 1935 and 1973 Constitution.

How we act today will determine how tyrants will act tomorrow. If we respond out of habit, those very habits could be the rope that will hang us all.

Arkibong Bayan, a news site which focuses on Asia, has released a thorough analysis that criticizes the Arroyo administration’s imposition of martial law in Maguindanao. The article quotes a statement by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers:

[Arroyo's justification of martial law is] clearly bereft of any sufficient factual basis for such declaration and suspension. This is an unequivocal and brazen abuse of the president's powers under the Constitution, plain and simple…

The president is testing the outer limits of the Constitution; the president is playing fire with fundamental freedoms by placing the military above civilian authorities.

Malayapinas, a citizen journalist at World Pulse Media whose husband was killed twenty years ago, laments the recent Massacre in Maguindanao, which took the lives of two of her friends, Concepcion “Connie” Brizuela  and Cynthia Oquendo.

Like Malayapinas, they were devoted human rights defenders. Malayapinas provides a detailed account of human rights abuses and her own perilous fight for change in the Philippines:

Under the Arroyo government, violence has worsened, as more military forces have become involved in the lawlessness and culture of impunity that reigns all over the island. At least sixty-seven journalists, not including the Maguindanao massacre, and more than thousand activists have been killed, disappeared and tortured during her reign.

Activists in my country are often labeled "Enemies of the State." Usually, they were shot to death or forcibly taken, even in broad day light by believed military agents wearing bonnets, brought into safe houses, tortured, interrogated and silenced forever.

- Michael Ramirez

On December 4th, President Arroyo imposed martial law in Maguindanao province of the southern Philippines, 10 days after a massacre that killed 57 — 31 of whom were journalists. The Arroyo administration claims martial law will subdue violence by the Ampatuan warlord clan suspected of carrying out the attack. Read more from Filipino blogs and news sites.