DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 10 March) — He has repeatedly dangled the possibility of martial law since his second month as President, warning he would declare it and later saying he did not need it but on Thursday night, President Rodrigo Duterte was more specific: “martial law for Mindanao” if governors and mayors do not help him prevent violence “from spinning out of control.”
Fourteen years earlier, Duterte, then on his fourth term as Davao City mayor, announced a day after the March 4, 2003 bombing at the waiting shed of the old Davao International Airport that he had known Davao City would be a “target” two weeks earlier and that he had in fact proposed to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to declare martial law in Mindanao.
Mindanao has 27 provinces. At the gathering of some 240 governors and mayors in 12 Mindanao provinces at the SMX Convention Center on Thursday night, Duterte did not say what areas in Mindanao he would place under martial law. He later told reporters he was “just shooting the breeze” with the local chief executives, for them to help him because “I do not want to do it because it is not good kasi pag mag-martial law na, ang supreme authority will be the AFP (Armed Forcse of the Philippines), ako, pati yung police.”
He said the compelling reason that would make him declare martial law would be “violence beyond the control of day to day operations of government.”
On March 5, 2003, a day after the airport bombing that left 22 persons dead and 145 others injured, Mayor Duterte told a jampacked crowd at the Granada room of the Grand Men Seng hotel that he had alerted authorities in Manila two weeks earlier that Davao would be the next target of terrorist attacks and in fact proposed that martial law be declared so that arrests can be made immediately.
“When I went to Manila, I alerted the higher authorities. And because I was already sure, I was suggesting to them, mag-martial law na kayo sa Mindanao (you declare Martial law in Mindanao) and I said let us start arresting them,” the mayor said.
But Duterte added he was told, “Wag. Steady ka lang,” (Don’t. Keep steady).
Later in the press conference, he said he did not go direct to Arroyo with the information (on Davao being next target). “I passed it over to the military and the police,” adding that “maybe when they talked about it, it (proposal for martial law declaration) was not agreed upon or it was not acceptable to the policymakers. I’m sure that the last stated it was not acceptable to all. Many considerations, libertarian, especially Congress.”
In a sit-down interview with MindaNews in June 2003, Duterte told MindaNews they had very reliable information about possible bombing attacks and was sure the city would be a target. “I talked to (Defense Secretary) Angie Reyes, I talked to (Local Governments) Secretary Jose Lina, sinabi ko sa kanila na bantay kayo dahil puputok yung Davao” and suggested that martial law be declared in Mindanao.
A leader of the Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for the airport bombing but Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes dismissed the claim, blaming instead the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The MILF was in a peace negotiation with the Arroyo administration when the “Buliok war” in February 2003 broke out, the military claiming they were going after the Pentagon kidnap-for-ransom gang and other criminal groups in Mindanao, but later announcing they had taken control of Buliok, the new base of the MILF chair.
Charges were filed against the MILF leaders for the airport blast but were later dismissed.
Threat or appeal?
Maguindanao Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu said he interpreted Duterte’s “martial law” statement as an appeal. He said local chief executives should heed Duterte’s plea and exert efforts to prevent violence in their areas. “Nagpapatulong yung matanda eh. Di nya kaya” (The old man is asking our help. He can’t do it by himself).
He said they do not want martial law declared so governors, mayors “down to the lowest barangay officials” must cooperate.
“The appeal of the President is really touching the heart of the leaders. If we could stop or eliminate the rebellion and lawless activities of these people, 70% mawawala ang problema ng Pilipinas,” he said.
Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar told MindaNews the President’s statement was “just an appeal to really help fight terrorism and fight criminality because Mindanao is suffering.”
The mayor said she does not want martial law declared, having experienced its difficulties. Her uncle, Cesar Climaco, was mayor of Zamboanga City who openly defied the Marcos dictatorship. He was assassinated in November 1984.
“As mayors, we just really have to do our work to ensure the safety and security of the local government units. The President is really very passionate because he doesn’t want women and children to suffer because of incidents of violence,” she said.
“This is the only time we have a President coming from Mindanao. Let us take the opportunity to correct what has to be done starting from us, like utilizing our powers as local chief executives,” she added.
The mayor stressed she comes “from a situation wherein we still have 18,125 displaced people and I know what it’s like to continue in the suffering so if as a mayor, as a woman if we can ease the burden of people (who) are suffering, let us do our work and utilize our power as local chief executives.”
The 18,125 persons were among those displaced by the September 2013 standoff in the city between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front under founding chair Nur Misuari.
Lanao del Sur Vice Governor Mamintal Adiong, Jr. said no one in the ARMM wants martial law.
“Ayaw namin siempre, lalong lalo na sa ARMM. Ayaw namin ng martial law
kaya lang ang gusto namin malaman niya kung ano talaga ang problema, yung dialogue talaga sa probinsya.” (We do not like martial law, especially in the ARMM, but what we want is for him to know what is the problem, a dialogue in the province).
He said he had hoped there would be an open forum so they could speak up, “kaya lang di kami nagbigyan ng chance na magsalita kung ano ang problema” (but we were not given the chance to talk). Each province, he stressed, faces different problems.
Mangudadatu said there was no forum with the Department of Interior and Local Governments before the President arrived at the venue.
Adiong is suggesting that the President visits each province to address their concerns.
He explained that if Duterte can go to each province, “may dialogue talaga, para malaman niya talaga. Kasi kung iba nagbri-brief sa kanya na hindi kami, iba ang lalabas,” (there will be a dialogue. Because if others brief him, instead of us, it would be different).
Threat and appeal
Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Western Mindanao Command chief said the President’s statement was more of an appeal for help so the situation will not be bloody given our experience under martial law. “Appeal yun na ‘tulungan nyo ako hindi magiging bloody kasi nakadaan na kayo sa martial law,'” he told MindaNews.
On the first row fronting the stage, the country’s top military and police commanders sat to listen as Duterte addressed the local chief executives behind them: Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año, Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa , Philippine Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Edgar Fallorina, Philippine Army Chief Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda and Philippine Navy Commander Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado.
National Secruity Adviser Hermogenes said what the President said was both a warning and an appeal.
“He’s saying that because some are not cooperating, some he wants to cooperate,” Esperon, a former AFP Chief of Staff who spent years in Mindanao, told MindaNews.
Duterte issued Proclamation 55 on September 4, 2016, placing the entire country under a “State of National Emergency on account of lawless violence in Mindanao.” The Proclamation was signed two days after the bombing at the Roxas night market in Davao City that left 15 persons dead and 69 others injured.
The Proclamation allows him to call on the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police “to undertake such measures as may be permitted by the Constitution and existing laws to suppress any and all forms of lawless violence in Mindanao and to prevent such lawless violence from spreading and escalating elsewhere in the Philippines.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)