Ferdinand Marcos declares martial law
Photo courtesy of the Philippine Daily Express
"There is no need for martial law. It will only upset the people."
(Schneizel el Britannia in Code Geass)

Martial law is defined as the exercise of government and control by military authorities over the civilian population of a designated territory (see comprehensive definition) or as the law administered by military forces that is invoked by a government in an emergency when the civilian law enforcement agencies are unable to maintain public order and safety (see definition here). Nevertheless, martial law as a legal concept has not exact definition, and the powers vested usually varied. The common aspect, however, is the ascendancy of a military authority. The Philippines has her share of experiences under martial law, and the latest of them would be the recent declaration of President Rodrigo Duterte putting Mindanao under martial law on May 23, 2017. This article would explore the Filipino experience under different occasions when martial law was enforced.

Ramon Blanco
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Contrary to popular belief, President Ferdinand Marcos was not the first one to put the entire Philippines or any part of it under martial law. On August 30, 1896, Spanish governor general Ramon Blanco y Erenas proclaimed a "state of war," not exactly "martial law," in the eight provinces which are now supposed to be represented in the Philippine flag as rays of the sun. Reading the exact text of the proclamation, "martial law" is not mentioned at all, even though it was stated in the proclamation that: "The civilian government and civilian judicial authorities shall continue functioning in all matters appropriately belonging to their attributes that do not refer to public order and this last matter to whatever the military allows them to do or delegates to them, requiring each one to give the other any news that will reach their knowledge." How did it come down to our history as martial law? Of course, to this day, the eight provinces are being disputed. Here are some of the combinations cited in a number of sources:

  • Batangas, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Manila, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac
  • Batangas, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Morong (Rizal), Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac
  • Bataan, Batangas, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Manila, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga
The first combination was from Blanco's proclamation of martial law: "From the publication of the present proclamation I declare the state of war on the territory comprising the provinces of Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga, Neuva Ecija, Tarlac, Laguna, Cavite, and Batangas." The last combination was, of course, from the Philippine Declaration of Independence. Despite differences in the tally (an honest mistake perhaps?), the eight provinces were known in history as the first provinces which responded to the call for revolution and sprung into action. Also, the Spanish remained open in the offer of amnesty for revolutionaries who would surrender within 48 hours (until September 2). There was an extension until the day after, September 3. As seen in this occasion, similar to later offers of amnesty by succeeding governors general, the amnesty program met limited success and the revolution continued.

Emilio Aguinaldo
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
Martial law and dictatorship

"God has willed that I should be placed in the position that I now occupy, although I am cognizant of my unworthiness."
(Emilio Aguinaldo)

Martial law has been usually equated with a dictatorial regime. However, in legal terms, it is not always the case. A dictatorship is defined as a form of government in which one person or a small group possesses absolute power without effective constitutional limitations (see definition). This means that a dictatorship may need not to be a military one. Meanwhile, martial law would always involve military authority. However, take for instance the case of Emilio Aguinaldo, who may well be a good example for this comparison. On May 23, 1898 (Aguinaldo says it was effective on May 24), he proclaimed a dictatorial government and has assumed the position of dictator. This was done with the recommendation of Apolinario Mabini, who just has been designated as Aguinaldo's adviser. He saw the opportunity to reorganize local government during this transition period. However, by this time, Aguinaldo is not exactly president of anything. Not the Republic of Biak-na-Bato, which was dissolved after the Pact of Biak-na-Bato was signed. Not the Tejeros Government, which was replaced by Biak-na-Bato. There was no election done prior to the proclamation of the dictatorial government to affirm his presidency. As foreign commentators viewed him, Aguinaldo was more of a generalissimo (highest ranking general) than a president. This can also be observed in the first article of the proclamation shifting towards a revolutionary government (on June 23, 1898), which states that: "The Dictator shall henceforth be called President of the Revolutionary Government." The change in title signals that Aguinaldo was not exactly president during the dictatorship. In light of this, one may ask, can Aguinaldo's dictatorial regime be considered a state of martial law? Does martial law form a dictatorship or does a dictatorship form martial law? In pursuit to resolve this case, it can be noted that Aguinaldo sent the proclamation of the dictatorial government to all possible channels, including the Americans. As they received it, Admiral George Dewey cabled to the United States Secretary of the Navy that "Aguinaldo declares dictator(ship) and martial law all over the islands." The Americans knew what martial law is. President Abraham Lincoln placed the entire United States under martial law with approval of the Congress in 1861, the first time it was done.

Of course, the text of the proclamation itself would be the final authority on the matter.
The first duty of a leader is to comply with the wishes of the governed. For this reason, I am compelled to establish a Dictatorial Government with full authority, civil and military, in order to determine first the real needs of the country.
Therefore, as long as the nation is in conflict (as implied by the proclamation), Aguinaldo, a military authority in legal terms, assumes both civilian and military powers, but without the use of the term "martial law." Why be careful with the term "martial law" but be bold enough to use "dictator"? In retrospect, Blanco also did not use the term "martial law," but the proclamation does define powers that are similar to martial law powers. Would a state of "martial law" feed public anxiety more than "dictatorial government"? Later on, with the promulgation of the Malolos Constitution in 1899, martial law is nowhere to be found as well. At any rate, Aguinaldo can be considered as the first Filipino dictator, and also perhaps the first Filipino president to proclaim martial law (without using the term itself).

Jose P. Laurel
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Martial law in the 20th century

"A nation fights for independence and tries to
achieve the maximum of safety, not only because
it is its God-given right to be independent and free
from molestation but because without freedom and
security, it does not have full opportunity to work
out it own destiny.
"
(Jose P. Laurel)

Martial law, though included in the constitution, will not be put into practice until the Second World War. The Japanese, pressed by the American offensive (the latter would land on Leyte by October 1944), pressured President Jose P. Laurel to proclaim martial law and declare a state of war against the United States. The Japanese thought that with these proclamations in place, they can conscript Filipinos to their armed forces. Laurel did so on September 21, 1944, effective on September 22. He mentioned in Proclamation No. 29 that:
The danger of invasion being imminent and the public safety so requiring, I, Jose P. Laurel, President of the Republic of the Philippines, pursuant to the authority conferred upon me by section 9, article II, of the Constitution, do hereby place the Philippines and all parts thereof under martial law and suspend the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus therein.
At any rate, the proclamation was nothing more than a formality. The Japanese Military Administration had always exerted control over the Philippines during the war. Laurel issued Proclamation No. 30 the day after, on September 22, 1944, even before the Americans reached the Philippines. Of course, foiling Japanese designs, Laurel refused to conscription of Filipinos to be part of the Japanese armed forces.

Trending in 2016: The tweet which sparked the phrase
"Martial Law thingy"
Photo courtesy of Twitter
After the war, the Americans granted the Philippines independence, but the 1935 Constitution, which was created under American rule, remained in use. This constitution envisioned a strong president, and this also reflected in its martial law provision.
The President shall be 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, insurrection, or rebellion, or imminent danger thereof, when the public safety requires it, he may suspend the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus, or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.
The only time this provision shall be used under the auspices of this constitution would be on September 21, 1972, when President Ferdinand Marcos placed the entire Philippines under martial law with Proclamation No. 1081. Same date with Laurel's proclamation a coincidence? It appears that he only publicized the proclamation on September 23, but Marcos had already signed the proclamation as early as September 17. A staged situation? Contrary to popular belief, Marcos was not taken by surprise to declare martial law right off the bat. It was his thesis back in the university to use the law to institute "constitutional authoritarianism." He has been thinking about it all along. Meanwhile, in the proclamation itself, there is a detailed explanation to justify martial law, which shows that all conditions to declare martial law, not just one of them, are present. As history goes, Marcos would be the one to use the martial law powers to the fullest. He has extended his presidency beyond his constitutional term, since the martial law provisions is diffuse, thus taking advantage of it, and he has become, as one book said, "one of the 20th century's great tyrants," a claim disputed by supporters and opponents to this day. A golden age or a rusted age? Summing it up: Aguinaldo did not declare martial law, but was a dictator? Laurel declared martial law, but was not a dictator? Marcos declared martial law, and was also a dictator? Taking note of these, the question mentioned before arises once more. Does martial law form a dictatorship or does a dictatorship form martial law? Marcos did lift martial law on January 17, 1981, but his presidency still continued until 1986, when presidential elections were held before the constitution-mandated year (1987). Of course, it will take more than one or two articles to discuss the martial law Marcos administered.

Martial law in the 21st century

"I have to do it to preserve the Republic of the Philippines."
(Rodrigo Duterte)

On December 4, 2009, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo proclaimed martial law in the province of Maguindanao. Proclamation No. 1959 was the first time martial law was used in the context of the new constitution, which was created in 1987, one year after presidential elections. The 1987 Constitution, which rendered martial law powers weaker than in the 1935 Constitution, states that:
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. In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law. Within forty-eight hours from the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the President shall submit a report in person or in writing to the Congress. The Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its Members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President. Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it. 
The Congress, if not in session, shall, within twenty-four hours following such proclamation or suspension, convene in accordance with its rules without need of a call.
The Supreme Court may review, in an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen, the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or the extension thereof, and must promulgate its decision thereon within thirty days from its filing. 
A state of martial law does not suspend the operation of the Constitution, nor supplant the functioning of the civil courts or legislative assemblies, nor authorize the conferment of jurisdiction on military courts and agencies over civilians where civil courts are able to function, nor automatically suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
The suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall apply only to persons judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in, or directly connected with, invasion.
 
During the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, any person thus arrested or detained shall be judicially charged within three days, otherwise he shall be released.
The detail in the 1987 Constitution as compared to the 1935 Constitution was intended as "safeguards" in case the president does declare martial law. As for Arroyo's declaration, the obvious condition is lawless violence, as it was the wake of the Maguindanao Massacre. Martial law was lifted on December 13, 2009. Apparently, she was careful with the use of martial law (for instance, the use of "state of emergency" instead of "martial law" in 2006 against a coup attempt), probably because of the unfavorable view of the Filipino people on the matter. According to surveys from 2001 to 2015, approval of martial law hovered from around 13% to 29%. As of 2017, approval of martial law is only at around 20%, which may be higher or lower considering the margin of error.

Rodrigo Duterte signed the martial law
proclamation in the Russian Federation
Photo courtesy of Malacañang Palace
As for President Rodrigo Duterte's proclamation, it is yet to be known how long martial law will be in place in Mindanao as of publishing time. While not as detailed as Proclamation No. 1081, the prevailing context of Duterte's proclamation was the ensuing battle between terrorists and Filipino armed forces in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur. Proclamation No. 216, signed on May 23, 2017 at the Russian Federation, intends to use the conditions of rebellion, invasion, and lawless violence as premise for martial law. However, he has hinted that he may also put other parts of the country, if not the entire Philippines, under martial law. If he does so, it will be the first time since Marcos. Also like Marcos, Duterte's proclamation has a historical coincidence. On May 23, 1898, Aguinaldo proclaimed a dictatorial government. Of course, Duterte has made a first in this proclamation, he was the first Filipino president to sign the martial law proclamation abroad. In sum, whether martial law is used or is abused for various aims and purposes, it has to be taken in mind that martial law is first and foremost intended for the achievement of peace and assurance of public safety. Let us always pray for the quick resolution of conflict and the restoration of peace not only in Marawi City or in Mindanao, but in the entire Philippines.

See the references here.