No to Extension of Martial Law in Mindanao

The Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) continues to call for the lifting of Martial Law throughout the whole island of Mindanao. For a policy that has been highly problematic since its inception, the continued subjugation of the citizens of Mindanao under heavy-handed militaristic policy from Malacanang has brought insecurity, further strife and the continuing delegitimation of the rule of law.

Since May 23, Mindanao has been subjected to Martial Law, allegedly in aid of the operations of the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police to flush out local terrorist elements of the Abu Sayyaf and Maute Groups, who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. While the Battle of Marawi has officially ended last October 23, the costs to human life, cultural heritage, economic productivity, social harmony and political stability in Marawi are near-immeasurable. International humanitarian efforts and standards, as borne out of global practice (and as mandated by the Philippine Constitution, as per Section 18, Art. VII) would require the restoration of civilian authority at the soonest possible time.

And yet, since the early days of December 2017, the Duterte regime continues to insist on the extension of Martial Law throughout Mindanao – bandying the supposed necessity of stamping out remaining terrorist and rebellious elements, without ever being transparent on the extent of such threats. Multiple state personnel – from the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Philippine National Police, alleged “higher up” sources from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and even the Regional Peace and Order Councils (RPOCs) under DILG – insist on its necessity, supposedly to prevent the Maute and ASG from regrouping, as well as supposedly neutralizing the alleged “tactical alliance” between Islamic extremists and the New People’s Army (NPA).

The rhetoric employed is virtually copied out of the old, Marcos-era scare tactics of the “unholy alliance” of “communists, terrorists and oppositionists” that it beggars being taken seriously. It is also curious to find how the very government office supposed to make considered policy on the crisis at hand, the Department of National Defense (DND), has not been given proper space to air its opinion at all – which is probably unsurprising, considering Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s tendency to oppose Malacanang’s ill-conceived, gung-ho posturings every step of the way. Moreover, in all this, the opinions of those whose fates are in the balance are continuously disregarded: the refugees from Marawi and other war-torn areas of Muslim Mindanao, whose stories of horror and despair already cry for humanitarian, civilian and legal governance responses. The furthering of war would divorce them from their homes indefinitely.

Learned opinion in the law (such as those of ex-Solicitor General Florin Hilbay and Albay Representative Edcel Lagman) have already pointed out the virtual absence of any further basis for the extension of Martial Law. If the government respects legal tradition, the rule of law and the pleas of its citizen, this should have been the end of discussion. Yet the Duterte regime, continuing to live up to its hallmark of brazen disregard for constitutional supremacy, continues to mobilize its bullies in Congress to vote once more for its extension.

The continuing spate of extrajudicial killings of community leaders throughout the country (plus the recent arrest of activists) continue to belie any benevolent intentions the Duterte regime may continue to claim for its extension of Martial Law. If any, it only affirms what international commentary and predictions fear. The high-handed policy of Rodrigo Duterte, imposed ironically and tragically against his fellow Mindanaoans, will only further resentment, fear and distrust amongst our countrymen. They will only, if left unchecked, provide recruitment grounds for extremist forces, which will prolong the conflict in long-suffering Mindanao.

We in SENTRO continue to call on the government to stop using the self-defeating logic of the gun. We urge it, once again, to stop playing with the Filipino people’s lives and instead, protect it. The displaced and despairing people of Marawi ask for peace and their homes back. By persisting on a military course of action, the government becomes complicit in their continued deprivation and exile.

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