KONSYENSYA DABAW: A third extension of Martial Law in Mindanao: What for? Who gains?

Statement of Konsyensya Dabaw on the third extension of martial law in Mindanao

We at Konsyensya Dabaw, an open movement of human rights advocates from Davao City, question the request transmitted by Malacañang to the 17th Philippine Congress for a third extension of martial law in

The Philippine Constitution in Article VII, Section 18  clearly identifies the applicable conditions when martial could be declared by the President:  “In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.”

Government itself has made various declarations that cast doubts on whether the aforementioned causes exist in Mindanao at this time.

The rationale for Proclamation No. 216 has been addressed. The President himself declared Marawi City liberated on October 17, 2017. The security sector has been systematically conducting operations against the Dawlah Islamiyyah/Maute, which was already pronounced “leaderless,” and other violent extremist groups. Meanwhile, responses to reported human rights violations in relation to the Marawi crisis have not been adequate.

In a November 16, 2018 message to the Mindanao Media Forum on Peace, Martial Law, and Marawi Rehab by Gen. Carlito Galvez, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), titled “Mindanao under martial law: A report to the nation,” claims were made about the confiscation of loose firearms, the “constriction of known terrorist groups,” and the surrender of over 10,000 members of the New Peoples Army (NPA) and supporters as well as over 300 members of local terrorist groups.

Given that the Public Affairs Office of the AFP in March 2018 estimated the NPA nationwide strength to be “3,700 based on revelations of captured/arrested/surrendered NPAs themselves,” of which “about 60% of the NPA guerilla fronts and red fighters are in Mindanao,” then the NPAs in Mindanao would number around 2,200.

The November report could mean only one of two things: either the AFP already wiped out all of the NPAs in Mindanao; or if the NPA has not yet been contained, then most of the claimed 10,000 surrenderees are, in all likelihood, civilians.

If the NPA has been significantly weakened in Mindanao, what need is there for an extension? On the other hand, if most of those who surrendered under questionable circumstances are civilians, who is it that truly benefits from the protection supposedly afforded by martial law?

We at Konsyensya Dabaw, an open movement of human rights advocates from Davao City, question the request transmitted by Malacañang to the 17th Philippine Congress for a third extension of martial law in Mindanao originally promulgated through Proclamation No. 216 on May 23, 2017.

In a previous statement, we warned about the ‘tapok-hangyo’ (TapHang) approach, where community members suspected of being rebel supporters are asked to gather in a meeting, subjected to talks pressuring them to cooperate, and then later declared as mass surrenderees. Cases of fake and forced surrenders have been documented in recent times in Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley, Agusan del Sur,  Bukidnon, Misamis Occidental, and Zamboanga del Sur.

In truth, these approaches are not new to Mindanao. During the years of the Marcos dictatorship, civilians  were also periodically harassed and herded into mass gatherings and declared as surrenderees.

Martial law and its seemingly ‘indefinite’ state has created a climate where those in authority in Mindanao seem to have been emboldened to use brute force or to curtail civilian rights and freedoms.

Four volunteer numeracy-literacy teachers of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in Tagoloan 2, Lanao del Sur went missing on November 12, 2018 and were found 15 days later, detained by the 103rd Brigade based in Marawi City. Because the four were detained beyond the prescribed number of days allowed by law that security personnel can detain suspects or persons of interest without filing cases against them, their detention is illegal.

Two military commanders were found accountable by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Region XII for failing to distinguish combatants from non-combatants, resulting in the deaths of seven Lumad members of the T’boli Manobo S’daf Claimants Organization (TAMASCO) led by Datu Victor Danyan in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato on December 3, 2017.

Prior to the CHR ruling, the military narrative associated TAMASCO with the NPA and accused them of planning to seize the Dawang Coffee Plantation, owned by Consunji Company through Silvicultural Industrial Inc. It conveniently omitted that TAMASCO was involved in a legitimate struggle to take back ancestral land on which the plantation is located. TAMASCO had refused to renew an expired Integrated Forest Management Agreement with Silvicultural Industrial Inc.

In Davao City, the Sangguniang Panlungsod passed an ordinance on November 27, 2018 making activities that would cause traffic jams, including streets protests, illegal. The legislation seemingly still respects the rights to freedom of assembly and free speech but actually contains and limits their expression to designated places in the guise of ensuring smooth traffic flow.

Martial law in Mindanao is constraining the legitimate assertion of civil, political, economic and socio- cultural rights. In the process, it is ensuring that the iniquitous development patterns that underpin historical poverty, injustice and conflicts in Mindanao are repeated, if not sustained.

A closer scrutiny of the AFP report reveals the counter-insurgency motivation of the extension: “The complexity of the security situation has been glaring at us for so many decades now—that no conventional military or police operations can ever seem to work. That a firm resolve in the firm application of authority and law is needed…”

Nowhere in the AFP report is there an acknowledgement of the fundamental and complex causes of the conflicts in Mindanao. There is neither recognition of nor respect for the comprehensive, integrated, and holistic approach to peace initially defined by EO No. 3 series of 2001 (Defining Policy and Administrative Structure for Government’s Comprehensive Peace Efforts) and fleshed out by the Duterte administration’s 6-Point Peace and Development Agenda.

If the ‘unconventional’ military or police operations hinted at by the AFP report will only translate to moreviolations of human rights, fail to truly address the causes of conflicts, and compromise our chances of durable peace, why extend martial law in Mindanao for the third time?

Mindanawons are being conditioned to equate martial law with order and respite from crimes, which

should be pursued through effective, consistent, and reliable law enforcement and rule of law in the first place. A third extension would only institutionalize martial law as the ‘new normal’ instead of being the extraordinary measure that it was intended to be by the Philippine Constitution

We urge the Philippine Congress to reject the request for a third extension of martial law in Mindanao, ensure that Proclamation 216 is immediately lifted, and prevent a nationwide declaration of martial rule.

Contact Person: Mags Z. Maglana; magszmaglana@gmail.com