In the wake of the declaration of martial law over Mindanao, as a result of the clashes in Marawi, it was interesting to watch social media come alive with the expected protests against the move. How could it not? Social media has long been the stomping ground of people with strong political opinions, and one of those opinions happens to be a pronounced aversion to, and fear of, martial law.
Neither was it surprising to see the rise of pro-martial-law tweets and posts. Again, strong opinions have always been the staple of Philippine social media. What threw me for a loop was that, at the point of collision between these two streams, soon emerged the “if you’re not from there, you shouldn’t care”, argument, coupled with a handful of tweets and posts calling for federalism.
This, I found bothersome. Look. To paraphrase Isaac Asimov, there is but one light of freedom. To dim it anywhere is to darken it everywhere. No one in their right mind would argue that martial law does not constitute a diminution of the freedom enjoyed by the people under its yoke. The deprivation of some freedoms —the freedom from warrantless arrests, for instance—is, in fact, the very raison d’etre of proclaiming martial law in the first place. You remove this freedom, to give you more latitude in your campaign to rein in the lawless elements.
But in diminishing this freedom —thereby dimming freedom’s light, as it were—you put many innocents at risk, as well. Perhaps not directly from the person who declared martial law, but at the hands of those who are tasked to implement it. This is not to say that the gallant men and women of the soldiery cannot be trusted; by and large they are honorable and do genuinely care for the people. But the possibility of there being bad apples among the good, cannot be cavalierly disregarded either. Nor do you even need to confine your apprehension to how soldiers and persons in authority will behave. Our history is rife with examples of neighbors turning against each other, isn’t it?
(This exposes the related argument that “the innocent need not fear”, as being disingenuous. There may be no reason to worry about just retribution, but no amount of innocence has ever acted as a shield against malicious intent.)
Under such conditions, where anyone’s continued liberty depends not on the protections afforded by law, but on the goodwill of individuals you might not even know, or might have offended at some point, or who may simply don’t like the way you look, it cannot be denied that fear among the general population will be a natural consequence, some locals taking selfies with soldiers notwithstanding.
On another level, those not from there, to my mind, are eminently justified in feeling fear—and therefore, expressing that fear through tweets and, yes, rallies. The declaration of martial law in one place brings the possibility of its declaration everywhere else much more likely. Even without the repeated warnings that expanding the coverage of martial law is not being ruled out, it does not take an overactive imagination to see the darkening of the light of freedom here, not just there.
In the end, the declaration of martial law in and of itself does not guarantee the onset of an oppressive night, especially since the Constitution contains the mechanisms that allow martial law to be used properly. When all is said and done, we might yet find that the worst of our fears weren’t justified. But in the meantime, even as we strive to stick to the path laid out by the Charter, let’s also try to respect how the others feel. Let’s not make matters worse by stoking the fires of fear; nor trivialize the apprehensions of those who do fear.
If a man tells you he is thirsty, don’t tell him he isn’t. Just give him some water.
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