Magazine article Newsweek

How Philippine President Duterte's Martial Law Got a Boost from Propaganda about a Former Dictator; Many Filipinos See Martial Law under Ferdinand Marcos as a Kind of "Golden Age" for the Philippines

Magazine article Newsweek

How Philippine President Duterte's Martial Law Got a Boost from Propaganda about a Former Dictator; Many Filipinos See Martial Law under Ferdinand Marcos as a Kind of "Golden Age" for the Philippines

Article excerpt

Byline: Brennan Weiss

At a cafe in Baguio City, Philippines, on the island of Luzon, Mary Lou Marigza's voice trembles as she recounts her experience as a political detainee under then-dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who imposed martial law in the Philippines from 1972 until 1981. Marigza was tortured, mostly by electrocution, for 13 months for organizing anti-government protests.

When the current Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao in May, it brought Marigza back to her time in detention. Like many in the Philippines, she believes Duterte may extend military rule nationwide, and fears the return of Marcos-era abuses. Already, Duterte has threatened to jail martial law critics and dismiss Supreme Court verdicts that challenge his authority.

Marigza is dismayed by the public's meek response since martial law began on Mindanao, which is home to nearly a quarter of the country's population. "Duterte is still a popular president," she says. "And the reaction of the public after the declaration is so poor. There's not even panic or concern. It seems like it's just our destiny."

Not every Filipino feels the same way about martial law or Duterte. Nearly 30 years after Marcos's death, a powerful propaganda campaign by the Marcos family and its allies has twisted many Filipinos' views on history, causing them to see life under Marcos as a kind of "golden age" for the Philippines. That's good for the Marcos family, and makes it easier for many to accept a similar authoritarian government under Duterte. Fifty-seven percent of Filipinos support Duterte's declaration, according to a Social Weather Stations survey in June. Duterte polls even better: According to another recent SWS survey, 78 percent of Filipinos are satisfied with him.

In early July, the Philippines Supreme Court upheld Duterte's imposition of martial law in Mindanao, ending any claims opposition parties had over its constitutionality. The president's allies, who have a majority in Congress, overwhelmingly support martial law. Though opposition groups have organized anti-martial law rallies, mostly in Manila, they have done little to threaten Duterte's agenda.

Duterte's announcement came on May 23, after pro-ISIS rebels from the Maute group, a local band of radical jihadists, raided Marawi, Mindanao's predominantly Muslim city of 200,000. The Philippine government says it failed in an attempt to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf group (a Maute ally) and one of the U.S. State Department's most wanted terrorists believed to be hiding out in the city. In retaliation, Maute militants opened fire on government forces, burned local schools and the city jail, and they held a priest and about a dozen churchgoers hostage.

Since that botched raid, the Philippine military, along with U.S. special forces, has been battling the militants by bombing Marawi and surrounding areas and killing hundreds of rebels. According to the Duterte administration, the rebels have killed dozens of civilians and government soldiers. The conflict has displaced nearly 400,000 people, and more than 70,000 people are living in government-run evacuation centers.

With the declaration, the military now has sweeping powers in Mindanao, including the authority to detain people without a warrant, implement curfews (as early as 9 p.m. in some areas), and monitor those traveling within the island. Martial law is not allowed to supersede the functioning of civil courts, Congress or the Constitution, but critics fear Duterte will use martial law to establish an authoritarian regime similar to that of the late dictator Marcos. New York-based Human Rights Watch has said martial law, "threatens to widen the scope of abuses under [Duterte]," who, for example, has joked that he would exonerate soldiers who commit rape in Mindanao. Duterte was elected a year ago on promises to eradicate illegal drugs and reduce crime by killing drug users and dealers. …

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