Militarization by other means

Soldiers erecting checkpoints, entering communities, and rounding up and interrogating residents in various parts of the country have become so commonplace in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s regime that we take for granted their lawfulness.  Do soldiers have a right to do these things?

Not being a lawyer, I can only ask questions.  The construction of the 1987 Constitution is easy enough to permit its commonsensical understanding by ordinary citizens.  I turn to its words and the values around which it is woven whenever I am bothered by the actions of government.  The Constitution is the self-defense and necessity of any democratic nation.  Every citizen should keep a copy of his country’s constitution in his pocket.

There is a division of labor between the military and the police that is recognized in every modern society and is upheld in the successive constitutions we have had in our country.  The maintenance of peace and order within communities is basically the function of the police. Our Constitution states that such a police force is “national in scope and civilian in character.”

The same Constitution declares among its guiding principles and policies that “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military.  The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State.  Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.”  I understand sovereignty to mean the power to govern oneself.  To defend a nation’s sovereignty is to protect the nation against foreign invaders. To secure the integrity of the national territory is to protect it against forces that seek its dismemberment.  On this basis, one may understand the active presence of soldiers in parts of Mindanao where secessionist movements operate.  But how does one account for the presence of military patrols in the streets of Barangay Commonwealth in Quezon City?

I quote from a report that appeared in the Inquirer yesterday (PDI, 3/3/07): “The military said the deployment of soldiers in some areas of Metro Manila was part of civil military operations in certain barangays where issues like poverty can be exploited by communist insurgents….Army spokesperson Maj. Ernesto Torres said the deployments had been going on since November last year and were mostly in depressed barangays.  Troops are sent to barangays where they stay and ‘talk to (residents), ask them how they are doing and tell them there are programs of government which they can avail (themselves) of,’ Torres said in a phone interview.  Torres said this was a ‘holistic approach’ in addressing the insurgency problem.  AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro said such deployments were ‘normal’ as it was the AFP-NCRCom mandate to ‘protect Metro Manila’.”

Protect Metro Manila against whom?  Against suspected communists?  Sec. 18 (1) of the Bill of Rights is clear on this: “No person shall be detained solely by reason of his political beliefs and aspirations.”  The last I heard is that no one can be penalized for mere membership in a communist organization.  But, as important, if Metro Manila is to be protected, whose function is this?  I always assumed this belonged to the police.

There is basis for this assumption.  The Constitution takes for granted that the maintenance of peace and order is not the normal function of soldiers but of the police.  And so it specifies those exceptional instances when the government, through the President, may call out the military.  Art. VII, Sec. 18 provides: “The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion, or rebellion.”

The last time Ms Arroyo invoked these Commander-in-Chief powers was in Feb. 23, 2006 when she issued Presidential Proclamation 1017 declaring a State of National Emergency.  Recognizing that these are emergency powers, the framers of our Constitution made their exercise subject to very stringent qualifications.  The most important of these is the provision that ensures the undiminished validity of the Bill of Rights even during such emergencies.

The Supreme Court held PP 1017 to be valid insofar as it was an exercise of the calling-out powers “to prevent or suppress lawless violence,” but struck it down as unconstitutional insofar as it claimed powers for the President that did not belong to her office.   These are: the power to issue decrees, to direct the military to enforce obedience to all laws including those not related to lawless violence, and to impose standards on media.

The question we must now ask is:  Does lawless violence exist today in our barangays, towns, and cities to warrant the engagement of the military in the everyday maintenance of peace and order in our communities?  If there is, what is its extent?  What is the basis for this assessment?  What limits are there, if any, to what the military can do in the course of “suppressing and preventing lawless violence”?

If one goes by the 1987 Constitution alone, there can be no doubt that with these recent troop deployments, the military has overstepped its mandate.  My fear is that the Anti-Terrorism Law (now euphemistically titled The Human Security Act of 2007) is aimed precisely at preempting these questions. By routinizing an undeclared state of emergency, the government lays the ground for the militarization of our communities.


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