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Commentary

Martial law and historical injustice

12:05 AM May 30, 2017

General Santos City—President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao in response to violence by armed groups in Marawi City opened another curious chapter in our political life as a nation. With the excesses of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorial regime four decades ago, many have come to equate martial law with abuse of power and violation of human rights. It’s no wonder that social media went into a frenzy after the President, hours after his declaration, warned on a Facebook Live video that he would be harsh: “Martial law is martial law… Kayong mga kababayan ko, you have experienced martial law… It would not be any different from what President Marcos did.”

Supporters and critics have come out to defend or condemn Mr. Duterte’s decision, with each side presenting its take on the matter. In fact he has threatened to
declare martial law many times. And with the violence in Marawi, it now seems he had a valid reason to do so.

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I don’t intend to argue whether or not Mr. Duterte’s decision was appropriate. I merely wish to air an appeal for sobriety on both sides.

It is during these crucial times that people must unite against a common enemy: terrorism. Questioning the legitimacy of
the declaration of martial law in the entire Mindanao does not automatically make
one a “dilawan,” and neither does supporting the President on his decision make one a “ka-DDS.” Looking at martial law in terms of a careful assessment of what’s happening on the ground will enable us to see that reality can never be reduced to binary opposites.

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While there may be a need for the imposition of martial law to prevent the spillover of violence, the trauma that it reawakens among those who have experienced it is a legitimate cause of concern. In a report, the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission cited the strongman Marcos’ martial rule as one of the most violent episodes in the history of Mindanao, with massive human rights violations committed.

There have been many times when the people of Mindanao lauded President Duterte for declaring in a speech that the historical injustices committed against them must be addressed. And it is important to remind him at this juncture that Marcos’ martial rule is one of those wounds committed in the past that remains unhealed and needs closure.

The President must thus make sure that the security mechanisms enshrined in the 1987 Constitution would not be abused, like what happened during the Marcos dictatorship. To this end, a feedback mechanism in which civilians could report the human rights violations that might be committed should be instituted. Likewise, empowering the Commission on Human Rights could be among the options that the President should consider.

Martial law, more than being a strategic endgame, has become a multifaceted societal issue that needs to be carefully approached. The only way forward now is to heed the vital lessons from the violent history of martial law in Mindanao and prevent the repeat of the same to appease the people’s doubts.

When the crisis erupted early last week, I was meeting with Moro friends from Marawi who happened to be in General Santos to participate in the National Young Leaders’ Conference. It was distressing to see someone I know worry about the lives of their loved ones back home, knowing that vicious terrorists were running amuck in their city of 200,000, brandishing high-powered guns and presenting themselves as fighters of the Islamic State. My friends were quick to explain to me that terrorism knows no religion, and that these terrorists are a shame to Islam.

At this time, the best thing that we can do is to be vigilant and mobilize as much help as we can to help the people of Marawi City—the real victims of the senseless extremism in Mindanao.

Jesse Angelo L. Altez ([email protected] msugensan.edu.ph) is an academic and development worker based in Mindanao.

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