The many voices of martial law
We cannot pretend otherwise: The nation is sharply divided on the issue of martial law, which President Duterte declared over the whole of Mindanao.
Those who support martial law see it as a logical and commensurate response to a serious threat about which President Duterte has long been warning. In this narrative, enemies of the state have joined forces—drug lords, terrorists, and even the political opposition, and they must be stopped lest they rend our nation asunder. “He knows what he’s doing,” they say of Mr. Duterte. “He’s from Mindanao; why will he harm his own people?”
Those who oppose martial law, on the other hand, see it as a disproportionate response; many fear that it is the next step in the President’s creeping authoritarianism. They cite the precedent of Marcos’ martial law—openly admired by Mr. Duterte even as it was marked by human rights violations. They worry that while the 1987 Constitution has checks and balances against abuses, the institutions tasked to perform them have become inutile and largely subservient.
This debate has taken on an even more divisive turn as some are framing it as a matter between the people of Mindanao and those not from there. “Isn’t it ironic? The people who complain are from Luzon, but martial law is here in Mindanao,” a friend from Davao said, echoing a common refrain in social media. He has a point, but can he speak on behalf of the whole of Mindanao, with all its many voices?
To make sense of people’s attitudes toward martial law, we need to understand where they are coming from. Some people cite the nondeclaration of martial law in Zamboanga City during the 2013 siege as an argument against it, but, as local broadcaster Ronnie Lledo tells me, many in their city actually feel that martial law should have been declared, given what they went through.
For many lumad all over Mindanao, perhaps martial law will be seen as “nothing new,” given the longstanding militarization of their homelands. We speak of “Muslims in Mindanao” as if they were one group, but they, too, have diverse sentiments: Many support martial law, but are gravely concerned about collateral damage. Others are bitterly opposed to it, citing the Moro experience during the Marcos regime.
As for the people of Marawi City, martial law is but part of the ongoing crisis. “This is the saddest Ramadan for us,” they cry, as they narrate stories of survival, escape, hunger, fear and suffering, alongside appeals for humanitarian aid. It is a sobering thought that many Filipinos remain in the crossfire, and that the death toll, civilian and military, continues to rise.
All these are legitimate voices, but theirs are not the only ones. As the death of Senior Insp. Freddie Manuel Solar—who hails from Baguio City—painfully reminds us, the soldiers and police officers in the frontline come from all over the country. Surely their families also have the right to be concerned on whether the fight we’re fighting is just and warranted.
And so does the rest of the nation, including the youth. Omid Siahmard, a UP Manila student from North Cotabato, urged people to stop generalizing their experiences of “feeling safe”—and called for an end to the air strikes, citing the death of a friend’s uncle. Shall we dismiss voices like his? Must we draw lines of legitimacy on the basis of age, region, institution, or religion?
And should we ignore the past? If Digong can invoke the memory of Bud Dajo, should we not invoke the memories of Malisbong? Or, for that matter, Pata Island and Manili?
Personally, I am worried about where this situation might take us: The President’s recent pronouncements (and jokes) are not very reassuring, and neither is humanity’s track record in handling unconstrained power.
But I worry, too, about the divisiveness that martial law is exacerbating and bringing about—a divisiveness that plays into the terrorists’ goal of undoing our cherished institutions and values. As the emerging narratives from Marawi should remind us, there are many voices out there, and the least we can do is listen, especially to those who are affected the most by this deepening crisis.
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