Duterte in 5th SONA: ‘no abuses’ during martial law in Mindanao

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 27 July) — President Rodrigo Duterte claimed during his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday that “there were no (human rights) abuses” during the imposition of martial law in Mindanao from May 23, 2017 to December 31, 2019.

In a speech that lasted for at least an hour and 40 minutes, Duterte said that certain sectors expressed concern when he declared martial law in Mindanao after Islamic State-aligned militants seized Marawi City on May 23, 2017.

Upon the request of Duterte, Congress granted extension to martial law three times until December 31, 2019

Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities have been under martial law for a total of two years, seven months and eight days, or a total of 952 days.

“Martial law in Mindanao ended without abuses by the civilian sector, by the police, by the military,” said Duterte, which was applauded by the unusually thin crowd inside the plenary hall of the House of Representatives.

“It ended because this time I know that you know how to love the country,” he added.

The President delivered his 5th SONA amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, which prompted Congressional leaders to limit the number of members physically attending the event.

In September 2018, human rights group Barug Katungod Mindanao said it had documented at least 77 cases of political killings, enforced evacuations displacing nearly 500,000 people and the filing of trumped up charges against 686 activists while the island was under martial law.

Duterte, the country’s first and only President from Mindanao, declared martial law in Mindanao while in a state visit to Russia hours after the combined Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups staged the Marawi siege on May 23, 2017.

The five-month Marawi siege displaced over 350,000 civilians and left the core of Marawi in ruins.

At least 1,100 persons, mostly Islamic militants, were killed during the siege, according to the military. Among those killed were Omar Maute and Isnilon Hapilon, the designated Emir of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia.

The militants seized Marawi, the country’s lone Islamic city, in a bid to establish a wilayah or a province of the IS caliphate there.

But to date, the 250-hectare ground zero, the former main battle area now referred to as the most affected area (MAA), remains restricted to residents.

Duterte, who claims to have Meranao roots, declared military victory against the militants on October 17, 2017, which, according to him, would “signal the start of rehabilitation of the war-torn city.”

But almost three years after the “liberation” of Marawi, massive reconstruction and rehabilitation works have yet to start.

In April 2019, data from the Department of Finance (DoF) estimated that P72.20 billion ($1.39 billion) is needed for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi.