COMMENTARY: Davao City’s request for exemption from Martial Law: A welcome development but not unproblematic

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 08 August) — First, kudos to the Davao Sangguniang Panlungsod for confirming what many Mindanawons know but are hesitant to publicly discuss: that Martial Law (ML) has negative effects.

The Davao SP cited ML’s consequences on “businesses, trade and investments” but Martial Law’s teeth has been felt as a heightened sense of militarism that spawned crackdowns; red- and terrorist-tagging that legitimize extra-judicial killings, illegal arrests, and other forms of harassment; and a sub-culture that makes acceptable acts that seem innocuous enough—such as the prohibition of backpacks and the willingness to carry and show IDs at all times even when one is only going to the corner sari-sari store—but taken all together are tantamount to the slow surrender of civil liberties.

Second, local governments in the rest of Mindanao should be encouraged to follow suit and claim exemption from ML by registering the same reasons cited by Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte: The civilian bureaucracy is functioning—they still have mayors, city/municipal halls, courts, and civilian functions.

But the reasoning of those who endorse the request for exemption is also that which makes it problematic.

That it takes foreign diplomatic voices voicing concern over economic interests to trigger government action on ML, which is already on its third extension and with signs of a fourth one coming. Why can’t the experiences under ML of farmers, workers, Lumad/indigenous peoples and the Moro in Marawi, Lanao del Sur, and Sulu also be compelling reasons?

That the Davao formula of 24/7 security visibility requiring big numbers of security forces and high investment in security measures and initiatives has been made the standard for reckoning whether a locality is secure or not. This is problematic at many levels. Most Mindanao LGUs do not have the huge intelligence funds required to establish and maintain such a set-up. Fundamentally, it endorses a mini-garrison state based on high security spending and the erosion of civil liberties as the ideal model.

That while recognizing that indeed martial law operates on fear—which is never a healthy condition of stable governance—unfortunately the “culture of security” is equated with people spying and telling on each other. This is reminiscent of the “stranger danger” mentality that feeds on stereotyping and breeds or fuels intolerance, which have no place in Mindanao given its highly diverse and dynamic populations.

And finally, the elephant (or the carabao) in the room, that no less than the President’s daughter had to instigate the move to make it acceptable. How would have the security sector—and Malacanang—responded if it were the mayor of municipality in South Cotabato who initiated such a measure? He/She might likely get laughed at, investigated, attacked on social media, labeled dilawan/kaliwa, put on some list or matrix, and targeted.

Davao City is again the norm. Davao City is again what will determine what gets exempted.

What did we in Davao use to say about Metro Manila and its imperial ways nga?

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mags Z. Maglana is a Mindanawon who has worked in various capacities over the past 30 years for peace, good governance, sustainable development, and the promotion of human rights. Maglana is one of the convenors of Konsyensya Dabaw. Please email feedback to [email protected]. This piece was first posted on her FB page. Permission to publish granted to MindaNews)

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