Emergency: A Proclamation of a State of Mind

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Emergency: A Proclamation of a State of Mind

by Manuel L. Quezon III

A proclamation of a state of national emergency is nothing less, and nothing more, than a proclamation of a state of mind, Rep. Teodoro Locsin, Jr. told me last Friday. We were marching down Ayala Avenue in the financial district, toward a Ninoy Aquino monument guarded from the people by phalanxes of policemen on the 20th anniversary of People Power.

I asked him what he meant. He replied that a presidential proclamation is a public expression of a president’s thinking, with a catalog of facts the president claims justifies that state of mind. “For this reason,” he explained, “it is beyond judicial review and dispute.”

Why so, I asked. “Because we have the precedent of the Supreme Court when Marcos suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus and later imposed martial law,” he said. “The Supreme Court said it is not a determiner of facts. Neither can it rule on a president’s state of mind.” For this reason, when the Supreme Court upheld President Marcos’ suspension of the Writ in 1971, Locsin’s father furiously condemned it: Eight months later, he became one of the top ten prisoners of the dictatorship.

Unlike me, Locsin is not an oppositionist; but he likes to think clearly. And he clearly sees that relying on judicial relief is a stab in the dark.

My view: The president’s proclamation of a state of national emergency is, in reality, the concrete manifestation, in legal language, of a state of panic.

Opposition and even adventurism (on the part of the military) may be an inherent temptation within their ranks, but digging in one’s heels, as Philippine media and other sectors are now doing, isn’t an inevitable response to an incumbent: At least not on a wide scale.

Yet it has become exactly that: Unbending, inflexible, determined, and widespread. The president has only herself to thank for this state of affairs. It is increasingly impossible for decent people to keep tolerating her. A fellow columnist I encountered at the Ayala Avenue rally told us frankly that she originally had no intention of commemorating the anniversary of Marcos’ expulsion.

But seeing the manner in which the government handled the anniversary, in particular seeing the brutalization of the public ordered by the Palace, pushed her to join the march. There were many others there who felt the same way.

In a recent column, Tony Abaya harped on what he called the naive nature of those who would sit at the same table with Philippine communists, much less march with them. And he has some valid points that I share: How can people praise, for example, one of the people recently ordered arrested by the government? I refer to Rep. Crispin Beltran, who has publicly praised the Tiananmen Square massacre, and who lavishes praise on Cuba because, at least, under Castro no dental cavity is left unfilled (though every dissident’s brain is guaranteed a bullet)?

I have visited the Vietnamese refugees in Vietville, Puerto Princesa City, and listened to their stories of how they were persecuted for crimes you and I commit over here on a regular basis: Dreaming of setting up a Mom & Pop store, owning a vehicle, attending Sunday mass, not believing in dictatorship, wanting to read any book we please, etc.

What Abaya overlooks, however, is this. At a time when government tries to make its efforts acceptable by publishing arrest lists filled with the names most citizens who consider themselves decent dislike, it is exceedingly dangerous to imagine that isn’t merely the tip of the iceberg. The dangerous logic of the government propaganda line — “if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear” — is that it assumes the government is as reasonable, as decent, as self-controlled as you like to think you are. Who says they are, and will ever be? Who says any government has ever been that way? And who says any government, even if that way, will stay that way, unless people make themselves pests to ensure that will be so?

Who determines who has done something wrong? Not the courts. Not Congress, nominally, at least, representative of the people. The determiner of right and wrong is the military and police, under the guidance of the government: And as for their verdict, there’s no appeal.

Furthermore, whether one agrees or not that the communists are obnoxious, dangerous, and devilish, it takes a government undergoing implosion to turn an otherwise unpopular enemy into a figure, otherwise hostile, people are willing to rally around to support. If what you have, for example, against Crispin Beltran is a warrant arising from a speech he made against Marcos, then you leave no choice for decent people but to disagree with the reason behind his arrest. When a government invites someone in for questioning, then, while the questioning is going on, discovers a moldy old warrant, and implements it, and then, having done that, only then begins to cobble together what it claims is evidence for more contemporary charges, you do not have justice, or a justifiable national security interest: You have what anti-opposition critics have accused the opposition of doing — a fishing expedition.

So if a fishing expedition against Arroyo’s wrong, it is now OK if used against her critics? That’s the kind of twisted logic that can only turn more and more people against the administration.

A government that proclaims it’s defending the rule of law, and bans all demonstrations, and which then says that there’s an exemption for Cebu City (proclaimed a bailiwick of political support for Ms. Arroyo), is a government interested only in privileges for itself and its camp followers.

The chief characteristic of a Cloud Cuckoo-land regime, such as the Philippines has at present, is that it ends up bestowing the prestige of resistance on those otherwise unable to topple it.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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