On 23 May 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Presidential Proclamation 216 placing the entire island of Mindanao under martial law. This was in response to the threat of “terrorist” activities in the whole island, despite the fact that fighting was confined to Marawi City and its immediate vicinity and that the situation was under control, as attested to by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) itself.
Human rights violations committed by State security forces against unarmed civilians and political activists have piled up since the martial law declaration. Warrantless arrests and illegal detentions have occurred against unarmed civilians and political activists. This includes the arrest and detention of human rights worker Hanimay Suazo and three farmer leaders on 28 June in Davao City. On 2 July, four other land rights activists and members of the Compostela Farmers Association were arrested without warrants by the Philippine Army (PA); the four are still being detained by the PA.
On 2 June, police and armed men hired by the company ShinSun Tropical Fruits violently dispersed the strike camp of ShinSun workers. 15 labor rights activists were illegally arrested, with police officers allegedly stating that they can arrest anyone now because “it’s martial law, we don’t recognize labor laws.”
Even non-government organizations providing educational services to indigenous Lumad communities have been harassed by government and paramilitary forces without cause. Since 5 June, teachers and students of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI) have been prevented from holding classes in Sitio Muling, Brgy Gupitan, Capalong, Davao del Norte. Paramilitary group Alamara, which is allegedly supported by the AFP, has continuously stated that they will shoot any teacher or student who attempts to return to Sitio Kapalong. As of press time, the Manobos of Capalong are still in a refugee camp in Davao City.
2047 Lumad from 424 households in 9 communities in Lianga, Surigao del Sur have been forcibly displaced since militarization intensified on 5 July. The Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) has a campus in the hinterland areas of Lianga, which is home to the Manobo Lumad people. In 2015, the Lumad of Lianga were forced to evacuate there ancestral lands when paramilitary forces murdered the ALCADEV director and two tribal leaders. Classes were disrupted, which severely threatened the right to education of indigenous children. The Lumad of Lianga have just recently returned to their ancestral lands in September 2016, only to be displaced again this month.
And civilians and political activists continue to be victims of extrajudicial killings. Just recently, Carolina Arado, a farmer from Mabini town in Compostela Valley province and a land rights activist involved in campaigns against large-scale mining, was gunned down by armed men on the evening of 13 July. Her husband and children were also injured during the attack. Activists are pointing their fingers at military assets as the culprits of the killing of Arado.
The list goes on. What is crystal clear to us is that martial law is not answering the supposed purpose of ending terrorism but is actually intensifying it, but with no less than State security forces as the agents of terrorism. And with the Supreme Court recently legitimizing President Duterte’s martial law declaration, these violations of the right to development and other basic rights of the Mindanao people will clearly only heighten. To top it all off, some top government officials are now floating the idea of expanding martial law to cover the whole nation and even extending the duration to five years, a very frightening notion that will surely breed only more human rights violations in the guise of fighting supposed terror groups.
We believe martial law is not the answer to the peace and security problems faced by the Filipino people. In fact, it will only exacerbate them. If only the President can see just as clearly.
Ms. Renmin Crisanta Abraham Vizconde
Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network of the Philippines (AscentPH)