KONSYENSYA DABAW: Not Too  Late To Back Down On Martial Law In Mindanao

Martial Law is upon Mindanao and Mindanawons once again. We in Konsyensya Dabaw are alarmed that 31 years after the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship, with which Filipinos resoundingly rejected militarism and authoritarian rule,  President Rodrigo Roa Duterte saw it necessary to declare martial rule ostensibly to address the violence that broke out and escalated in Marawi City in military operations against the Maute group.

We believe that while the safety of civilians in Marawi and adjacent areas needs to be ensured, and the problems of lawlessness and ‘violent extremism’ have to be addressed, the declaration of martial law for the whole of Mindanao is unwarranted.

We refuse to believe that the capacities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) would be so inadequate as to require a solution like martial law to deal with what the AFP has described as a security operation and not a terroristic attack, and concerning a group over which they claimed to have an upper hand.

We are also disappointed that the first Philippine president to come from Mindanao, instead of shedding more illumination on the problems of Mindanao, has taken recourse to actions that are reminiscent of the very dark days of martial law under Marcos.  We have reasons to worry.

Beginning March 2017, President Duterte has publicly talked about putting in effect martial law in Mindanao in order to “finish” all its problems. He would not be the first to have had such lofty intentions that later turned out awfully wrong. Marcos used Mindanao’s problems as among the justifications for issuing Proclamation 1081. But martial law circa Marcos did not make things better for Mindanao. It made things worse, a key reason being poor understanding of, and response to the roots of the problems.

With past experiences of large-scale repression against Mindanawons, and so much at stake in Mindanao’s present and future, we cannot be trusting and naively believe that martial law under President Duterte would be a better experience. He himself was quoted as saying “martial law is martial law ha. it will not be any different from what the President, Marcos did. I’d be harsh.”

It is tempting but ultimately simplistic to reduce the Maute to one of ‘violent extremism’ and terrorism that deserves a full militarist response. Much of what is referred to as ‘violent extremism’ around the world are rooted on, and aggravated by factors of inequality, exclusion, marginalization, structural violence, and inability to deal with pluralism in societies.

The imperative is for responses that do not simply  counter ‘violent extremism’ but prevent it, address root causes, and build new alternatives. Thus, we need to reframe the Mindanao situation, rather than revive the inaccurate narratives and brutal formula of old.

We call on the security sector to rapidly resolve the situation in Marawi, restore order and stability, and take more effective actions against the Maute, Abu Sayyaf, and similar groups heeding past lessons.

We appeal to the President to make a more sober assessment of the situation upon his arrival, resist the influence of the warmongers among his circles, and to back down on martial law in Mindanao. It is not yet too late to avoid the ineffective shortcuts proffered by militarism and strongman rule, and demonstrate leadership grounded on an understanding of the historical and systemic natures of our problems.

We challenge the Philippine Congress to make an independent assessment, and revoke the proclamation. The President has not even accounted to Congress the  results of Presidential Proclamation 55 that put the whole country under a “State of National Emergency on account of lawless violence in Mindanao” and now martial law in Mindanao?

We urge Mindanawons to stay safe, remain vigilant, and keep on asserting our rights.  Our safety will not come from being quiet, thus relinquishing our civil and political rights, and allowing a diminishing of public spaces.

We ask fellow Filipinos to not ignore this development, and to refuse to endorse the blanket reasoning of  violence and “trouble in Mindanao.” As our painful experiences under Marcos bore out “ang sakit ng kalingkingan ay dama ng buong katawan” and “hindi pagpuputol ng paa ang solusyon sa rayuma.”

Contact Person: Mags Z. Maglana