TURNING POINT: Beyond the Target

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NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/29 May) — In essence, Martial Law is accordingly imposed in Mindanao to effectively stop terrorism and protect civilians from terrorist harm. No one questions this laudable objective. We cannot help, however, from being apprehensive because  our experience under Marcos’ Martial Law  was scary – our protectors turned out to be our worse enemy who inflicted more horrible harm to citizens than the declared enemy of the State.

We, who lived and witnessed the atrocities of the Marcos tyrannical rule, dread the thought of history repeating itself.

It does not help that  the President announced recently that, in declaring Martial Law, he would  do what Marcos did to defeat the enemies of the State. Thus, with the Martial Law declaration he also suspended the privilege of the writ of Habeas Corpus. And we can only speculate what other civil liberties would be suspended in the process, particularly if the coverage area of military rule is expanded as he intimated a few days ago.

It is almost a necessity that every time Martial Law is declared,  the operation of some laws has to be suspended. This is supposedly to make life difficult for the enemies of the State, weaken and ultimately ruin them. But the application of  Martial Law to solve a problem like terrorism and, say,  its current manifestation in Marawi is like using a hammer to hit a scorpion crawling on the head of someone. This kind of over-reaction is sickening. The damage to the unintended object is evidently  worse than the actual target.

The suspension of the privilege of writ of Habeas Corpus, for instance,  may lead to illegal indefinite detention of  any person suspected of crimes in places only known to arresting agents to  summary executions or forced disappearances, and other human rights violations  which may hurt more innocent civilians than the enemies for which Martial Law was declared.

That the suspension of laws on human rights would only apply to terrorists and not to law-abiding citizens is naïve if not impaired thinking.

Consider this. When on the run, terrorist elements have a way of blending with the civilian communities to elude their pursuers. It is not an easy task to distinguish the enemy from the locals once this happens. That the executioners of Martial Law will make that distinction is wishful thinking. It is  unavoidable that the pursuit or hunt for suspects would hurt the civilian communities.

Even outside conflicted areas, warrantless search and arrest of suspected criminals can lead to abuses which the judicial system is generally helpless to  remedy  and counter under a military regime.  Again, in the suspension of laws that protect human rights of citizens, the law-abiding citizens are likely to suffer more than the real offenders.

Martial Law is wastefully unnecessary to counter terrorism. Likewise, the employ  of conventional warfare to combat terrorism is inappropriate or not a good match to the problem being addressed to. I wrote earlier in this column that fighting terrorism demands a different strategy.

“…Unleashing attack helicopters, war tanks, waves and waves of armed personnel  would inflict heavy casualty to the invading force rather than to the target.  The zooms and rumblings of war machines betray the invaders and prepare the terrorists for the encounter. They could ready an ambush for slow moving soldiers whose huge number makes them very easy target. The shock and awe strategy is only good in movies. It means nothing in hit-and- run combat, the game of most terrorists like the ASG we all know play.

Terror is the only antidote for terror. Terrorists should be fought they way they fight but in much better fashion.  Not an infantry but a specially trained commando force is needed to hunt and pursue them like rabbits wherever they may scamper. If a number is captured they should be treated in the same manner they treat their victims, or much more to paralyze in fear the survivors on the run.”

The British unparalleled historic success in ending the communist threat in Malaysia in the early 60s employing Gurkha commandos is a model to look into in eliminating the terrorists in Mindanao and elsewhere. The Gurkha commando approach reduces to the barest minimum civilian collateral damage because the battleground is decided by the commandos – the fight is contained and  generally fought right in the lair of the enemy. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)

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