COMMENTARY: Dangers of Martial Law: The Case Of South Cotabato SP Member Romulo Solivio

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 18 Feb) — I find it appropriate to state, at the outset, that it is dangerous for us to allow the military to succeed in its current social experiment whose ends are clearly to stifle dissent and stall the free exercise of the people’s civil and political rights which are prominently enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.

If we remain silent, and do not raise our voices in protest against what it is doing now to Romulo O. Solivio, former Municipal Mayor of the Surallah and incumbent member of the Sangguniang Panglalawigan of the Province of South Cotabato, we will soon see the military wagging its oppressive wand to sow fear on the people, cow the opposition and cripple the activist and progressive movements in this part of the country.

Our silence in the midst of this dubious act of making Romulo Solivio as a tool for this dangerous social experiment will send a wrong signal to military officials who would be emboldened and encouraged to continue in their pursuit to trample upon our constitutional and God-given rights.

Thus, we need to raise our voices against this military experiment before the effects of the military’s psychological warfare will invade deep into public consciousness, and make us live our fears and sufferings. We should not allow this to take its roots on our consciousness and our beings.  Otherwise, we will all be reduced into robots, without a mind of our own. This is also very dangerous for all of us.

Today, Board Member Romulo Solivio, or Mulong as he is fondly called by his friends and allies, is reported to be in constant hiding after he was falsely tagged by a military official to be a member of the CPP/NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines / News Peoples Army)

Because of this, Mulong Solivio is also reported to be seriously worrying about the security and safety of his wife, children and grandchildren.

As it is now, Mulong Solivio is, clearly, a victim of military officials’ limited view of the political spectrum. Politicians who aligned themselves with capitalist forces are considered desirable, while those who accompany the basic communities and sectors in their struggle for dignity and prosperity are automatically tagged as members of the CPP/NPA.

This frame of mind is quite irritating because until now, when information is supposed to be just in our fingertips, the military is still clinging to its old moronic view of things, putting to serious question the kind of education and training that they were made to undergo while inside military training institutions.

Few days ago, Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, commanding officer of the 33rd Infantry Battalion, based in South Cotabato, publicly announced that Mulong Solivio is a member and an active supporter of the CPP/NPA. Accordingly, Mulong is considered by the military as one among the many public officials in the country who is supportive the CPP/NPA’s revolutionary struggle.

For this reason, Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc reportedly vowed before the public that he will soon put Mulong behind bars. This promise, no matter how off-tangent, is not just an empty word. Lt. Col. Cabunoc can really do it now to Mulong and to any members of his family, considering that Mindanao is now under the state of Martial Law.

The reason for this is obvious. But, let me state, at this juncture, that this public pronouncement of Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc is already sending a shiver of fear not only into Mulong Solivio, but also into the collective spine of social activists, human rights defenders and other progressive development workers not only in South Cotabato and General Santos City, but also in the whole SOCSKSARGEN’s economic corridor.

The whole of Mindanao is now under the state of Martial Law. At the same time, the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is also suspended in the whole Island of Mindanao.

In effect, this means that any military official can have Mulong Solivio and the other members of his family arrested and put behind bars anytime even without any warrant of arrest issued by a competent court. This also means that the military can undertake searches of Mulong’s household and business establishments, and that of any other members of his family, without a search warrant.

Duterte’s Martial Law is more dangerous than the Martial Law of the fallen Philippine dictator.

While Martial Law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus are already intrinsically dangerous to activists, human rights defenders and progressive development workers, like Mulong Solivio, what makes them doubly dangerous is the absence of gallant lawyers and church workers who are always ready to defend hapless individuals against the abuse of state’s coercive forces.

It is my view that social activists, human rights defenders and progressive development workers were far better off during the time of Marcos than the time of Duterte.

For instance, in General Santos City and South Cotabato, they have had Attorneys Dominador Lagare, Vicente Mirabueno, Larry De Pedro, Rufino Banas, Felix Calatrava who were always ready to defend their rights and shield them from military abuses during that dreadful period of the fallen dictatorship.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines, then, led by Atty. Rogelio Garcia, was so active in the defense of the people’s constitutional rights. The IBP has a regular program where military abuses were exposed and publicly condemned. Even Fiscal Franklin Gacal was also active in the campaign against military abuses during that most dreadful period of the Marcos Marcos Martial Law. Since he is a government prosecutor, Fiscal Gacal was so effective in his opposition against military abuses.

We do not have this kind of lawyers now. Sadly enough, even the local chapters of the IBP have been reduced into a neighborhood associations, bereft of any advocacy for the defense of human rights and the civil and political rights of an individual.

During the Marcos Martial Law, the South Cotabato Alliance for Peace (SCAP) headed by Bishop Reginald Edward Vincent Arliss, C.P., of the then, Prelature of Marbel was very active in the campaign against military abuses.

During the Marcos’ Martial Law, Fr. Loreto Viloria, editor of Concern, the official paper of the Diocese of Marbel, was very active in exposing military abuses as they happened, and was not afraid to visit military camps even during the wee hours of the night in search for the missing persons who were suspected to have been abducted by the military.

In addition, Mike Sueno, the only opposition mayor during Martial Law also entertained no qualms in publicly exposing and leading rallies against military abuses.

We do not have this kind of lawyers, church workers and public officials right now. This makes the Duterte Martial Law more dangerous than the Marcos Martial Law. The military can just trample upon the rights of an individual, without any kinds of a deterring opposition.

This is, perhaps, the reason why these current threats against the life and liberty of Mulong Solivio are welcomed by the people with alarming silence. Nobody is taking the cudgel for him, not even his fellow officials in the Province of South Cotabato.

The public announcement by Lt. Col. Cabunoc on the complicities of Mulong Solivio with the CPP/NPA becomes even more dreadful not only because Mindanao is now under the state of Martial Law, but also because of the fact that it was Lt. Col. Cabunoc who made that public pronouncement.

He was a former Philippine Army spokesperson, thus, he holds a wide sphere of influence within the military. Thus, he can undertake the arrest and imprisonment, and even, God forbids, the assassination, of Mulong Solivio, with the full support of the military hierarchy.

I do not believe Lt. Col. Cabunoc when he claimed that Mulong Solivio is a member and supporter of the CPP/NPA.

But before I discuss this, let me emphasize, first, that one’s membership to any revolutionary group was already decriminalized immediately after the advent of the EDSA People Power Revolution.

Therefore, granting arguendo that Mulong Solivio is really a member of the CPP/NPA, there is still no reason for Lt. Col. Cabunoc to arrest and incarcerate him. By being a member of the CPP/NPA, Mulong is not committing any crime under our existing laws. Imprisonment of a person for reason of his political belief is prohibited by the bill of rights enshrined in the Philippine Constitution.

As long as he does not rise in arms against the government, Mulong Solivio is not committing any crime that will justify his arrest and incarceration even if Mindanao is under the state of Martial Law. Mere membership in a revolutionary group is not rebellion under our existing criminal statute.

I can only hope that Lt. Col. Cabunoc understands this too well.

Furthermore, even if it is true that he is participating and supporting the rallies and pickets of the CPP/NPA’s legal fronts, Mulong Solivio does not, still, commit any crime. The right to peaceably assemble for redress of grievances and the right to express one’s opinion are inviolable rights of individuals. These rights are guaranteed by the Constitution.

But, what is sure for me is: Mulong is not a member or a supporter of the CPP/NPA’s armed struggle. He is just simply an activist and a progressive thinker whose primary goal is to balance the social landscape so that every person could have access to decision-making and become meaningful participants to the processes of growth and development.

As, then, Mayor of Surallah, Mulong Solivio was our partner in the implementation of our institution’s development and governance program which batted for the transformation of barangays into sustainable, autonomous, self-sustaining and empowered basic government institutions and, at the same time, for the formation of empowered and sustainable communities.

We call this dual-power governance and development strategy.

In the pursuit of this program, our development and governance institution, in partnership with the Municipality of Surallah, under the auspices of, then, Mayor Solivio, engaged in the formation of community-based and sector-based organizations in the 17 municipalities of Surallah.

Mulong Solivio was not just a fence-sitter in the implementation of this program. He accompanied us even up to the remotest villages of the municipality to spread the importance of people’s direct and meaningful participation in the processes of policy-making and development.

He was too convinced, then, that the empowerment of the barangay and basic social institutions is a key to genuine growth and development.

One day, 15 armed members of the CPP/NPA paid a nocturnal visit to Tutong Dignadice, the chairperson of the farmers’ organization which we established in Barangay Canajay, Surallah, to ask him to stop kowtowing with the organizing project of Mayor Mulong Solivio.

The NPA commander accused Mulong of slowing down the success of the people’s revolution through the implementation of what he called a reformist project.

Mulong Solivio, upon hearing what had happened to his organizer, he asked us to hide Tutong Dignadice in the urban centers of General Santos City, so that he may be situated outside the sphere of danger, which we did.

This incident triggered heated verbal exchanges over radio station DxCP between me and Noel Ligaspi, popularly known as Ka Efren, spokesperson of the CPP/NPA for Far South Mindanao.

Ka Efren and his wife had lately surrendered to the military, for an unknown reason.

I even suspected that my inclusion in the diagram of the CPP/NPA, which was published in its official publication “Ang Bayan”, indicating that I was one among those in the CPP/NPA’s Order of Battle, was caused by our organizing project in Surallah, which for the CPP/NPA was a reformist project.

This alone would prove that Mulong is not a member of the CPP/NPA. He is just an activist and a progressive thinker.

BY THE WAY, I condemn the act of the military of using Ka Efren as a tool against his comrades in the CPP/NPA. Worst, he is being reportedly used for the military’s witch-hunting operations.

For many decades, Ka Efren lived the life of the hunted in the pursuit of his revolutionary works. The military should allow him now to find his peace with his family.

To use Ka Efren against his former comrades is the cruelest of all acts, and must be strongly condemned by our current civilization.  For this, I appeal for the intervention of Governor Daisy Avance Fuentes.

Going back, indeed, Mulong Solivio has in his record a history of the struggle for the oppressed and the disadvantaged.

One time, he accompanied the people in lying, en masse, on the tarmac of the Surallah airport in order to prevent the planes of a multi-national company engaged in the banana and pineapple plantation business from flying for the aerial spraying of the vast banana and pineapple plantation of this same company.

Mulong Solivio is a permanent fixture in march-rallies initiated by either environmentalist groups, church groups or other activist forces. He always loves to be in the company of the masses and the basic sectors. This is exactly a kind of a public official that we need now.

Rather than protecting capitalist interests, Mulong Solivio, as a public official, walks with the masses to articulate their issues and their concerns for the future.

The military should appreciate him, and not threaten him of arrest and imprisonment. We can seldom find a politician, like Mulong Solivio, in the country today.

Lastly, the fate that is now befalling Mulong Solivio is the reason why we oppose the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao.

The moment the power of Martial Law surges into the heads of military officials, our society will be plunged into danger. The unbridled power that the military wields during Martial Law could be used to tear apart our sacred rights and our dreams.

We should speak up now, while we still can! [MindaViews is the opinion section of Mindanews. Benjamin Sumog-oy is Action Officer of In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) in General Santos City]