Here Comes The Martial

The streets are relatively calm. Nothing outside the ordinary is really worth noting about, except that when night falls the streets are eerily quiet. Too quiet, almost frighteningly quiet. Why do I say so? Because my years in Thailand have vouched for this disarming observation, most especially in Bangkok. It is never quiet in Bangkok. It has always been alive even during the wee hours in the morning. There is always some sort of sign of life in some nook; but ever since martial law was invoked last Tuesday morning, the silence has crept in. Almost like every concerned resident is listening for a bomb to explode somewhere.

Since I have been busy packing and organizing for my departure, I have not really paid any attention to the news and I was as shocked as Thailand’s interim Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan when the announcement was broadcasted. Many are right, “blindsided” was the perfect term for it and honestly, I don’t know how to make sense of the politics of the situation. If the Commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army Prayuth Chan-Ocha maintains his commitment in preventing further violence, maintaining peace in order to protect lives and properties, then I have no condemnation for this move.

Democracy Monument

Democracy Monument – where there used to be protesters, there are now armed forces stationed (the photo with the soldier is credited to PolicyMic )

I think this move comes at a timely moment when the ridiculous conflict between the Pheu Thai government and the opposition has gone beyond manageable. So far,  28 people have been killed and almost 700 injured in the irregular unrest that the Thai government has somehow, unknowingly allowed to happen. It was not long ago when shadowy assailants used guns and grenades to raise street clashes between the rival groups.

I always had high regard for the Royal Thai Army, in fact, I volunteered in their Teaching English program two years ago which helped  keep the youth off the streets and allowed parents who could not afford to pay for English courses to learn the supposed universal language; but I have my doubts on giving unlimited power to the military. Every Filipino who have survived one knows that this will eventually suspend civil rights. One classic example of a similar scenario is Ferdinand Marcos’  ‘garrison state’ which was ideally imposed to suppress increasing civil strife and threat of a communist takeover. What was initially well-received soon turned into infamous excesses and human rights abuses by the military.  Many may have wrongly forgotten the nightmares and have heeded to the attempts to rewrite history, stating that the martial law era in the Philippines was a period of discipline which paved the way to development, but many know that this was not entirely so. Let’s not forget the statistics documented by historian Alfred McCoy – 3,257 salvaged (definition is summarily executed in our side of the globe), 35,000 tortured, and 70,000 incarcerated. It was also during this same era when Marcos plundered a huge bulk of the government’s financial coffers which stunted the country’s economic growth severely.

Like what I mentioned, I fully support a political tactic (the martial law in Thailand for instance) that will stop the unnecessary bloodshed and ridiculous fighting. I trust that the Army Chief General’s intentions are truly for the people and are free of any biased agenda. I also understand that one cannot say how long the martial law can remain in place because we could not really create a specific timetable for peace and order to be achieved in such an incommodious time, but uncertainties are dangerous ingredients to possible abuse.

With Thailand’s Martial Law Act of 1914, military commanders have full control to suppress unrest, which include detaining people, censoring media, imposing curfews, and “prohibiting public gatherings, publications, broadcasting, transport, communication, travel, and movement  of people” when deemed necessary. The people was assured by the Army Chief General that not all restrictions will be applied but so far my friends and I have watched freedom of expression disappear as channels are replaced with a stoic live signage  by the Peace and Order Maintaining Command (POMC). No shows. No news, except for the short live telecasts from POMC that pops in and out occasionally. Anti-government and pro-government radio and TV channels were censored and shut down. Curfew has been implemented too and people flock to train stations earlier than usual. In fact, if you commute by train, for a moment you will forget that you were in Bangkok. You would think that  you were in India or China perhaps as these usually polite citizens learned to shove and push in a packed mode of transportation, all in a hurry to get home before 10:00pm. Traffic has always been Bangkok’s curse but it’s even worst now.

Bangkok now

Bangkok now. Photo credit: Mc Louis Geronilla

Many residents do not understand the move. I don’t understand it fully because this may be a prelude to a coup. It’s surprising that the Red Shirts are not reacting as strongly as they usually do but if the caretaker government will be removed, things will get more interesting and it will all start in the capital. I just hope that the intentions of the implementation of the martial law will match the objectives it broadcasted and that the ones who were given ultimate power will not abuse it.

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