In two well-publicized speeches last December, President Ferdinand Marcos declared that he would soon lift martial law in the Philippines, perhaps by the end of January. This announcement was craftily timed in expectation of the February visit to the Philippines of Pope John Paul II and the January inauguration of Ronald Reagan.
President Marcos imposed martial law in 1972. The legislative assembly was dissolved, newspapers closed down, political opponents arrested and detained without trial. Since then, President Marcos has ruled by decree and used the military to carry out his policies.
Should Christians now rejoice at President Marcos' recent statements? Is a change coming? The words democracy or normalcy can fool us if we have no concrete criteria to measure what is happening in the Philippines.
Technically, for martial law to end, President Marcos would have to divest himself of his emergency powers. The National Assembly, a rubber-stamp parliament elected in 1978, has been considering amendments to the constitution which would allow Marcos to lift martial law. However, termination of his right to promulgate such a decree is not part of the amendments. Philippine Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile has said that the government intends to keep the power to suspend the right of habeas corpus in selected national cases. Detention of people without trial will continue. So two key elements of the martial law regime will remain, no matter what the system is called.
What would it take for martial law to be lifted and a genuine democracy to be instituted in the Philippines? The obvious barrier to democracy is the economic stranglehold foreign corporations have on the country and the control the U.S. government exercises through its military and economic aid and military bases.