Martial Law in Mindanao: Duterte’s War on Peace

On May 2017, clashes erupted between militants belonging to , which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), and the security forces in , Lanao del Sur. This escalated to the burning of schools and establishments including a Catholic Church and the taking of hostages that included a priest and worshippers. Within hours, President Rodrigo Duterte, who was on official visit to Russia, placed the entire under martial law by issuing Proclamation 216.

Immediately the next day, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) declared that the situation was under control. But even with this declaration, Duterte, upon his arrival from Russia, not only threatened to be harsh in the exercise of his martial law powers which he likened to that of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s, he threatened to plunge the rest of the country under military control.

But there is more to Marawi than just quashing a much-hyped terrorist incursion.

Government troops were not in Marawi in an offensive military operation against Maute. Rather, they were there to capture Abu Sayyaf leader, Isnilon Hapilon, one of the (FBI’s) most wanted with a $5M bounty on his head. What should have been an arrest setup developed into a large-scale military operation. The scenario brings to mind the events of January 2015, infamously tagged as the Mamasapano Tragedy, where the pursuit to capture aka Marwan, also in the FBI Most Wanted List, left a bloody trail in its aftermath and imperiled the fragile peace negotiations between the (MILF) and the Government. In both instances, US interests seem to be the underpinning impetus – to arrest individuals under its Most Wanted List in its continuing War on Terror. It would seem that once again, the placed its security forces at the behest of US War on Terror.

Hundreds are now fleeing Marawi seeking refuge in nearby areas. But flight from the staccato of gunfire and explosions in the City will not guarantee security or safety. The Mindanao-wide imposition of martial law legitimizes wholesale and widespread human rights violations arising from warrantless arrests and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. Using Marawi as a pretext, Duterte has threatened to impose martial law in Visayas and Mindanao.

With the excesses and abuses committed by police authorities in Duterte’s War against Drugs, the military solution to the Marawi crisis does not provide reassurance nor the semblance of security. Our grim historical experience should restrain the Commander-in-Chief from being quick to impose Martial Law. Characterizing it to be at par with the the Marcosian military rule only fans the fears and misgivings as to the adherence to the constitutional limitations to its implementation – faithfulness to due process, rights against unreasonable searches and seizures and warrantless arrests and detention, among others. Note that Section 18, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution strictly confines the basis for the declaration of Martial Law to only two grounds: (1) when there is invasion or rebellion, and (2) when public safety requires it. Covering up a failed anti-terrorist operation is not one of the grounds.

At a time when the Government has yet to compensate all Martial Law victims under the as mandated under Republic Act (RA) 10368 or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition At of 2013, it is disturbing that we have another Martial Law in Mindanao declared by the country’s first Mindanaoan President.

Martial Law is incongruent to the on-going peace talks between the Government and the (MNLF) and between the Government and the New People’s Army (NPA), as known strongholds of the rebel groups face impending militarization with the enforcement of Duterte’s 60-day Martial Law. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana justified the imposition of Martial Law to resolve security problems in Zamboanga, Sulu, Tawitawi and which are not only limited to terrorism but also encompass insurgency.

Sanlakas calls for the immediate lifting of Martial Law in Mindanao and for the Duterte Government to desist from liberally exercising its martial prerogatives to further its security agenda. While to the Government, mobilizing the military and militarizing its anti-terrorism campaign may seem the most expedient option, to the ordinary citizen, especially in conflict-ravaged areas of Mindanao, it means sparking renewed armed tensions, clashes and instability. It means displacement of communities and families. It means igniting anti-Moro sentiments. It means undermining peace in Mindanao by waging war against it.