Marawi residents crying for justice fear extended martial law
MANILA, Philippines – If she can beg each and every lawmaker to reject the extension of martial law in Mindanao, she will. She attended the joint session of Congress on Wednesday, December 13, and spoke with anyone willing to listen.
She feared the harassment of displaced Marawi residents, many of them still barred by the military to go back to their homes months after the war ended in October. (READ: Congress extends martial law in Mindanao to end of 2018)
“Ang takot (our fear) with the approval of the extension of martial law – 365 days more – is the witch-hunt that is possible to any person who has a Maranao-sounding name. Maranaos are all over the country. We are afraid that in Cebu, for example, makahanap sila ng families whose names are similar to the Romatos or the Mautes,” Samira Gutoc said, referring to the family names of the leaders of the homegrown Maute Group.
Gutoc is a tireless NGO worker from Marawi City, one of a few voices who stood up for residents caught in the middle of months-long fierce battle between the military and armed groups linked with Islamic State.
She hoped to speak to the lawmakers during the joint session, but it was rejected by the leadership that showed no patience entertaining questions even from lawmakers themselves who opposed the extension. It took only 4 hours to deliberate the future of Mindanao following rules to limit questions to only 3 minutes.
'Martial law instills fear among complainants'
Gutoc was also in Manila back in July to narrate before Congress the alleged human rights violations committed by the military. She failed to persuade them to reject the first extension of martial law. (READ: Marawi resident makes emotional plea vs martial law abuses)
In the absence of actual complaints, she was accused back then of weaving tales to discredit the military.
But Gutoc said the absence of cases does not vouch for the military’s good record in Marawi. It speaks of people who feared coming forward. She said evacuees were also afraid they would stop receiving aid if they reported abuses.
“Some people in the field are not able to report to the Commission on Human Rights office and to the Philippine Army. After detention (by the military), trauma agad. They don't want even to approach anybody else,” said Gutoc.
“Martial law extension instils more fear in the reportage. How can you document abuse?” said Gutoc.
On December 13, as Congress deliberated another extension of martial law, Gutoc brought with her a fellow Muslim from Cavite. Gutoc said her companion would narrate how the military arbitrarily arrested her family in Pagadian City back in July.
Her parents are now detained in Taguig for rebellion charges. She said they are too old to be members of Maute Group. They’re too weak to even hold a gun.
Gutoc is asking the Department of Social Welfare and Development to track down and protect Marawi residents who fled the besieged city and evacuated all over the country.
Silencing the victims?
A report of the international rights group Amnesty International (AI) showed transcripts of interviews with Marawi residents who suffered torture in the hands of the military. The identities of the victims were withheld. (READ: Both sides in Marawi siege committed abuses – Amnesty International)
Drieza Lininding, also a displaced Marawi resident, feared that this is point of the extended martial law: To silence the victims.
"Para patuloy na manahimik ang mga Meranaw na wag na magsalita sa mga paglabag sa kanilang mga karapatang pantao (It aims to silence the Maranaos who suffered human rights violations)," Lininding said.
Lininding is what one would call a social media influencer. Lininding was once a vocal supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte, but he was disappointed in his handling of the war in Marawi. Lininding's Facebook account hosts rich debates among residents about the war.
On December 13, while Congress deliberated, Lininding wrote to say that the extended martial law was a "psy ops" or psychological operations meant to scare victims of massive lootings, extra-judicial killings, torture and illegal arrests.
"Dahil sa pagpapalawig, mawawalan na ng pag-asa ang mga biktima na makakuha ng hustisya. Hindi namin masisi yung hindi taga-Marawi kasi di nila naranasan ang mga pang-aabuso lalo na sa aming mga ari-arian (Because of the extension, victims will lose hope that they can get justice. We cannot blame those who are not from Marawi because they did not suffer abuses especially when it comes to our properties)," he added.
Lininding laments criticisms that he was siding with the terrorists. He said he was only running after the military because he hoped for possible remedies. He said he could not run after the Maute Group.
A plea for help
Gutoc and Lininding oppose the views of Lanao Del Sur local government officials, who supported the extension of martial law. (READ: Marawi mayor backs extended martial law to 'keep terrorists away')
"Alam po natin 'yung presence... nitong mga terorista, I would say eh na-control na po. But nandiyan pa rin po ang threat, nandiyan pa rin 'yung mga ating naririnig na mga alleged na recruitment from outside Marawi City. So ayaw po natin na makabalik sila dito," said Marawi City Mayor Majul Gandamra.
(We know that the presence of terrorists, I would say, has been controlled. But the threat remains, we still hear of alleged recruitment taking place outside Marawi City. So we don't want the terrorists to return here.)
ARMM Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong shared the mayor's views. "It rests on necessity and practicality. The actual threat of terrorism is not imaginary or distant," Adiong said.
Gutoc and Lininding argued security forces do not need martial law powers to run after terrorists.
Despite the differences of opinions among Marawi residents, they echo each the same plea for help. They know that the rehabilitation of Marawi is going to be a big task. – Rappler.com