The declaration of martial law in the province of Maguindanao have more implications than its own objectives. Ostensibly, the declaration aims to preempt a rebellion from the Ampatuan clan, facilitate the arrest or capture of the perpetrators of the Maguindanao massacre, and reestablish civilian authority in the province.
The argument has been made that the declaration of martial law can achieve these objectives. Counter-arguments have also been put forward that the same objectives can be achieved by the use of normal means available to state authorities, even the declaration of a state of emergency.
Martial law or not, the key measurement of the appropriateness of the method used is that it achieves the objectives with the least collateral damage and with no additional or subsequent problems. In this, the martial law approach fails miserably.
First, there is as yet no rebellion and therefore no justification for martial law. What is there is a specious argument of a threatening rebellion (expressly incised out by the 1987 constitution from the previous constitutions). There is simply no factual basis for the declaration of martial law.
Second, for the sake of argument, if ever martial law is declared in relation to the Maguindanao massacre, it should have been done immediately after the incident, when the state authorities have actually attempted to arrest the Ampatuans and other perpetrators and their efforts are met with armed resistance. Conceivably, martial law could have been resorted then if the local civilian authorities–including the local officials and police–either belong to the Ampatuan clan or else their supporters and therefore these fail to perform their duties; the perpetrators are protected by armed means; and the local population is under a state of terror.
Doing this after a period of delay and with no evident escalation of the situation opens to speculations of other objectives, particularly when the conditions for the declaration of martial law are not met.
There is fear that the declaration of martial law may be extended by an Arroyo-influenced joint Congress session to more than the 60 days allowed by the Constitution to possibly include the election day itself and thus possibly influence the outcome of the elections in ARMM and even the national elections. There is also fear that the joint session itself can lead to the resurrection of the Charter change initiative. The worst fear is the possible no-elections because of the breakdown of law and order in ARMM and even on the nationwide scale.
The declaration of martial law will not contribute much to the solution of the Maguindanao massacre. It may even lead to problems of the nation. It is a gambit–which if not opposed vigorously–can well lead to a sharp turn against Philippine democracy. The closest vigilance is therefore called for even as the nation does not let go of the search for justice to the victims of the Maguindanao massacre.