The challenge posed by martial law

With the death toll in Marawi rising and the number of internally displaced persons reaching almost two-thirds of the city’s estimated population (176,920 IDPs as of May 30), it should be clear that a military solution to Mindanao’s insurgency problem is doomed to fail, and that the failure would drag the nation to further deterioration.

The crisis in Marawi merits the government’s urgent intervention, and we must all stand in solidarity with the city residents in this trying period. But President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus might simply aggravate the abject plight of the peoples of the island.


Worse, the President in announcing the possible expansion of martial law to Luzon and the Visayas, with a casual and reckless reference to Ferdinand Marcos’ own martial rule, has disturbed those who endured and still remember the fascist and antipeople character of the Marcos dictatorship.

Civil society, peace movements, and even minority lawmakers have expressed opposition to martial law and assailed Congress for its failure to abide by its constitutional duty to convene and deliberate on the validity of Mr. Duterte’s declaration. Petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court, which may review the factual bases of the declaration and issue a ruling within 30 days.


But before they adjourned session last week, the two chambers of Congress issued separate resolutions backing the martial law declaration. Even earlier, Mr. Duterte told soldiers he would listen only to the
military and police with regard to the enforcement of martial law. Thankfully, he has since backtracked and announced to the troops that he would abide by the high court’s ruling on the petitions.

To think that much earlier, Mr. Duterte rejected the idea of declaring martial law and even called it “stupid.” But then he is known for going back on his own statements; the imposition of martial law in Mindanao is but the latest example. As much as we want to hope that this is just one of his “hyperboles”—a typical term used by his supporters to defend him against critics—it is not. Nor is it a joke. And no one is laughing.

Marcos’ one-man rule created a “national stigma,” which puts in question the legal, moral and political bases of the May 23 martial law declaration. Various administrations were unable to resolve the Mindanao problem and to address the historical roots of the Moro insurgency. President Joseph Estrada declared all-out war on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2000, but it simply enabled the MILF to generate broader political sympathy among the Bangsamoro and the international community. President Gloria Arroyo knew the limits of her martial  law declaration in Maguindanao. President Benigno Aquino III saw the painful impact of the Mamasapano incident on the  peace process with the Bangsamoro. But President Duterte should know better.

Martial law is a peace-breaker. Except for the tragedy in Mamasapano in January 2015, there was relative peace in Mindanao between 2012 and the declaration of martial law.

For the group Mindanao Peaceweavers, a peace process with the Bangsamoro is still the best deterrent to violent extremism and will bring about the sociopolitical changes so urgently needed in Mindanao. Bringing peace to Mindanao has become a terribly complex challenge. Understanding the root causes of the Moro insurgency will increase the chance of avoiding bloodshed through a negotiated political settlement. Thus, a peace process that recognizes the Bangsamoro’s fundamental rights and freedoms is key to sustainable peace and progress in Mindanao and indeed in the nation.

The time calls for building solidarity with the people of Mindanao. The martial law declaration should compel vigilance in everyone, especially with peace and human rights under fire. The challenge is for everyone to speak up against the slightest resurgence of tyrannical rule; to express legitimate dissent and resist propaganda that promotes military rule as a short-cut remedy to armed conflict; to educate ourselves on the lessons of martial law; and to equip ourselves with wisdom and courage to defend our fundamental rights and freedoms.

Martial law is a declaration of war on peace and human rights.


Isagani V. Abunda II works as a media and advocacy officer in an NGO engaged in peace-building in Mindanao.

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TAGS: marawi city, martial law, President Duterte
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