Manila - Embattled President Gloria Arroyo's declaration that she would take a tough stand against demonstrators has fuelled talk that her government is considering martial law in the Philippines. Some opposition politicians have even claimed that the Department of Justice had prepared a martial law decree but media reports preempted Mrs Arroyo from signing it.
Last week, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita announced the government is enforcing a "calibrated preemptive response" policy in dealing with rallies against the President. The new policy allows the President to overturn and invalidate any rally permit issued by a local government "in the interest of peace and order and national security".
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the new policy is aimed at protecting the majority of the people.
"All these talks about possible reimposition of martial rule are plain hogwash. We are a fully functioning democratic state and not a national security state," Mr Bunye said on Sept 25.
However, he admitted that at the height of the political unrest, which was triggered by allegations that Mrs Arroyo had a hand in rigging last year's presidential elections, the government had outlined some security plans although he did not elaborate what these schemes were.
But now that political tensions have eased, "we are back on economic stabilisation and growth mode", Mr Bunye added.
In a commentary published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, writer Neal Cruz argues that Filipinos are no longer afraid of martial law.
"I don't think martial law would be as effective as it was during the Marcos regime. Today, the people are no longer afraid of it. They know they can fight back and eventually chase the President out of Malacañang as they did with Marcos.
"Neither are the people afraid to be arrested and imprisoned. They have learnt that arrest and detention is a shortcut to fame and to a fruitful career in politics and government. Many of the oppositionists who were imprisoned by Marcos graduated to become senators, congressmen, Cabinet members, etc. They could not have created even a ripple in the political pond had Marcos not made heroes of them by having them arrested."
Mr Cruz said Mrs Arroyo would be playing into the opposition's hand if she were to impose martial law.
"People who have so far been reluctant to join the street protests would suddenly be angry and realise that they have to do something to prevent another dictatorship. Street rallies would get bigger; it would be the heroic thing to do. What the opposition have been unable to do, GMA would do for them."
* People no longer afraid of martial law (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sept 26)
* Malacanang says martial law fears pure hogwash (The Manila Times, Sept 26)
* Congress won't back martial law (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sept 26)