Mindanao residents slam AFP, PNP recommendation to extend martial law

Sofia Tomacruz

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Mindanao residents slam AFP, PNP recommendation to extend martial law
Groups say martial law has supposedly led to an increase in fake charges and abuses against community members

MANILA, Philippines – Representatives from labor unions and indigenous communities in Mindanao on Monday, December 3, slammed the government’s recommendation to extend martial law in the region, saying instances of abuse have increased and worsened living conditions under military rule.

Residents from Mindanao trooped to Manila, joined by ACT Representative France Castro and former Bayan Muna representative Teddy Casiño. They recounted instances of alleged land-grabbing, forced surrenders, and human rights violations supposedly carried out by military forces which, they said, became more frequent since the declaration of martial law last May 2017.

Ang sinasabi raw ng gobyerno suportado daw ng mga locals ang martial law. [But] that is only a very small aspect of martial law – ang matinding impact ng martial law doon sa mga communities,” Casiño told reporters in a press conference.

(The government says locals support martial law. But that is only a very small aspect of martial law – where the true effects are felt in the communities.)

Castro, who was arrested in Davao del Norte Wednesday, November 28, likewise recounted the “trumped up” charges of human trafficking and child abuse police accused her and former Bayan Muna representative Satur Ocampo of committing. The two were part of a humanitarian mission to deliver food and evacuate children due to alleged harassment by state forces.

Casiño, speaking of the situation of Castro and Ocampo, said these were not isolated cases but one that community leaders and human rights groups face daily. “These are now normal in Mindanao,” he said.

What residents experienced: Among the instances residents recounted were those by Dulphing Organ, a leader of Lumad group Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran). He said over 40 individuals from Lumad communities were killed under martial law while many were forced to leave their homes because of intense military operations.

Organ added that there have been about 90 alternative learning schools for Lumads closed, since these are often suspected by state security forces to be breeding grounds of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Organ denied this.

Jolly Samad, a Lumad student representative denounced the attack on schools, and claimed that paramilitary forces supposedly detained and arrested teachers. He said schools should remain open because even under military rule, individuals had a right to education.

Hindi kami papayag na bombahin ang schools natin. Karapatan natin ‘to….Nandito kami para sabihing huwag i-extend ang martial law…lalong nagpahirap sa aming mga Lumad ang martial law,” Samad said.

(We will not allow our schools to be bombed. This is our right…. We’re here to say we do not want another extension of martial law…martial law only made life harder for us.)

CHARGES. Representatives of indigenous groups and workers unions in Mindanao say members have been languishing in jail on false charges for crimes they have never committed. Photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler

Meanwhile, Subanen tribe leader Lorna Señara said military rule in Mindanao has seen more forced evacuations and fake surrenders allegedly carried out by state forces.

Señara said these would be done as military would order communities to gather at barangay halls supposedly for meetings or to receive government support. She added such instances started in 2010 after mining company TVI Resource Development went to the area, but that the recent military rule saw such instances increasing.

The same was true for Lita Wali, who is among the survivors of a supposed military encounter with communists in Lake Sebu, which resulted in the death of 8 Lumad tribe members in December 2017.

Wali said tribe members were shot at when they were accused of squatting on land which, they said, was owned by their ancestors. She said community members did not want longer military rule as this would prevent them from returning home to their ancestral lands.

Because of this, Casiño said that many indigenous communities and human rights groups were no longer able to assert their rights for fear of punishment under martial law.

They are being accused of all kinds of charges, they are being arrested illegally, yung iba nga napapatay, at ang nakikita nilang dahilan diyan ay because of the culture of impunity na binibigay ng martial law sa mga state security forces,” he said.

(They are being accused of all kinds of charges, they are being arrested illegally, some are killed, and the reason they see this is happening is because of the culture of impunity that martial law gives to state security forces.)

Why this matters: The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) said they will recommend extending martial law in Mindanao for a third time, as military rule is set to end December 31 this year.

President Rodrigo Duterte has been waiting for the recommendation of the police and the military before he decides to ask Congress for a 3rd extension of military rule in the area.

Responding to this, Casiño and leaders from Mindanao said there is no longer any basis to extend martial law. This is because the military defeated Islamic State-inspired local terrorists after they attempted to seize Marawi City in May 2017.

They added that justifications to extend martial law to ensure peace and order during the Bangsamoro plebiscite and elections in May were also unnecessary as these can be addressed by ordinary functions of the police and military.

Both the AFP and PNP have repeatedly said locals support the measure. To prove this, the AFP has been compiling statements of local officials who support martial law.

Casiño rejected this, saying: “Martial law is not a popularity contest. Gumaganda daw yung peace and order ngayon dahil sa martial law, but they (local officials) will always say okay naman yung martial law. Sa ganitong pagkakataon, ano mas dapat nating pakinggan? Yung mga apektado.

(Martial law is not a popularity contest. Peace and order is supposedly better because of martial law, but they (local officials) will always say martial law is okay. In these situations, who should we listen to? Those who are affected.) – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.