MANILA — Shortly after Muslim extremists affiliated with the Islamic State laid siege to Marawi, a city in the southern Philippines, on May 23, President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law for 60 days across the island of Mindanao. Citing the presence of foreigners among the fighters and the risk of an “invasion,” he said he might extend martial law to the entire country if that was necessary “to protect the people.”
And just like that, it seems, tens of millions of Filipinos woke up to the twin threat of the Islamic State and of a potential return to unfettered authoritarianism. Democracy in the Philippines seems to be at its most fragile point in years.
What’s more, with the system’s civilian checks and balances held hostage by Mr. Duterte’s popularity, the military seems to be the best, if unlikely, guardian of Philippine democracy today.
In 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos invoked communist and Islamist insurgencies to declare nationwide martial law, and during the decade it stayed in force, thousands of opposition leaders and activists were tortured and killed, with the help of the armed forces.