Who’s afraid of martial law… in Mindanao?

Ermin F. Garcia Jr.

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Who’s afraid of martial law… in Mindanao?
'Past experiences are not, and cannot be invoked to object to the proclamation of martial law in Mindanao'

Not me.  Martial law targets lawless elements, so why should anyone be?

I was 24 when I experienced Marcos’ martial law.  I was already running the Sunday Punch, then a 17-year old community newspaper in Pangasinan founded by my father Ermin Sr., in Dagupan City.

Besides the targeted alleged subversives (political opposition) at the time, I can say without fear of contradiction that journalists under the Marcos martial law were targeted to suffer the brunt of martial law. If having your news reports censored by a sergeant in the constabulary or being sent on exile as a condition to keep one’s newspaper running could not be considered an agonizing experience, then I don’t know what is.

But these past experiences are not, and cannot be invoked to object to the proclamation of martial law in Mindanao.

In the first place, the situation was without precedence The Constitution then did not provide safeguards for its implementation and coverage.

Clearly, the motivation for the Marcos martial law was political, not about rebellion, uprising or terrorism. It was about keeping power for the sake of keeping it for as long as Marcos could.

There lies the basic difference between what was declared in 1972 and this year’s proclamation. In contrast, President Duterte has invoked terrorism and lawlessness in the region, and the terms its implementation are regulated by the constitution.

And is the imagined fear of abuses by implementing agents enough justification to oppose it? Let’s answer that with this question: Should it take precedence over the fears felt daily by the citizens in Mindanao who are being abused, tormented and terrorized by armed groups and bandits?

So, is martial law in Mindanao necessary?

I believe so. Our government and the rest of us can no longer ignore the following facts about life in Mindanao:

  • Mindanao has been the hotbed of armed conflicts for generations involving the secessionist groups: MNLF, MILF and BIFF.

  • It has become the haven for armed bandits and terrorists: Abu Sayyaf and Maute (both pledged allegiance to ISIS) and NPA.  

  • The combatants of the above groups, particularly, the groups that commit atrocities (kidnap for ransom, extortion, killing of hostages, raiding of police stations, terroristic bombings, etc.) have been able to operate with impunity with the help of sympathizers and relatives in many communities. Their sympathizers and protectors include barangay, town, and provincial officials.

  • Many major military and police operations in the past against above groups have failed and cost many lives because sympathizers in the communities always found ways to alert the groups of planned military offensive operations.

  • Military and police officers are vulnerable to corruption because they have more to gain from covert alliances with the armed groups and nothing to gain from operating against the latter. It has been a no-win proposition for them since government never demonstrated the political will to fully contain the situation.

  • The flow of investments and implementation of development programs have been impaired by continued lawlessness and violence in the region. Many infrastructure projects continue to be sabotaged by the armed groups.

  • Poverty in Moro communities have lured many to illegal drug trading, now a major source of funding for the criminal activities of the separatists and bandits.

Why should the martial law be implemented in the whole of Mindanao region and not limited to Marawi City?

  • The confirmed infiltration of ISIS operatives in Mindanao can be expected to gain more following in the months ahead from both the secessionist groups and bandits. Unless government shows it is determined to stop ISIS, more groups with extremist leanings will be emboldened to organize. (When government tolerated MNLF’s existence, splinter groups surfaced, among them the MILF. And when government decided to tolerate MILF, BILF came into being).

  • Terrorism knows no boundaries. Before, Maute planted a bomb in Davao City. ASG kidnapped victims in Zamboanga. BILF engaged government troops in Cotabato. Today, Maute wants Marawi City as a stronghold. The NPA attacked police stations, burned equipment of plantations in Mindanao. Which town or city will be attacked and under siege next in Mindanao?

  • The armed groups have influence and presence in many towns and cities in Mindanao.

  • With technology and caches of high powered guns in their hands, the secessionists and bandits can wreak havoc in any targeted town and city in Mindanao (and in Luzon and Visayas where they have cadres and sympathizers) on demand.

What hopefully will martial law in Mindanao accomplish?

  • Armed groups will finally be on the defensive because the full might of the Armed Forces will be thrown at them, and they will have difficulty operating outside of their comfort zones. (The failed attempt of ASG to sabotage the ASEAN meeting in Bohol is the most recent example of how the absence of sympathizers in communities can impact on the armed groups’ operations).

  • Sympathizers (relatives and local government officials) who’ve long been protecting the criminal activities of the separatists and the bandits will finally be exposed and arrested. (The assumption here is the government will seek the lifting of the writ of habeas corpus).

Without martial law, military and police have to go through the tedious process of applying for search and arrest warrants before the suspects can be detained and interrogated.

  • Since the military and police finally see a chance to finally win the war particularly against the bandits, the morale of operatives and combatants will be high.

  • The armed groups will finally have difficulty recruiting in their communities for their criminal  activities.

  • With real peace and order in place, investments will begin to flow into Mindanao, more infrastructures can be constructed and the region’s economy will finally begin to improve.  

  • The sincerity of the CPP-NPA-NDF in its pledge to support the peace talks will be tested. 

What makes us believe President Duterte will succeed?   

  • No president in the past was as resolute nor expressed a desire to end the generational armed conflicts in Mindanao. The situation in Mindanao was deemed too complex by past administrations that they decided to focus on development in Luzon only, a tact that led to the reference to the national government as “Imperial Manila.”

  • We finally have a Mindanaoan, a Christian with Moro blood in his veins, as president, who more than anyone, knows and understands the complexities of the problems of Mindanao and is committed and determined to end the armed conflicts in Mindanao.

  • Mr. Duterte, for all his perceived lack of statesmanship with his often ill-advised off-the-cuff remarks, has not shown an inclination to stay in power for decades but a political will to improve the peace and order in the country.

  • The Duterte administration has already launched massive infrastructure plans for Mindanao and foreign trade investments have already been secured.

  • Foreign countries have committed to provide funds and initiate programs for Mindanao’s development.

  • Abuses will likely be checked and minimized because Congress, the Commission on Human Rights and the courts will continue to function.

  • The freedom of the press is not being curtailed.

I believe Mr. Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao, minus widespread abuses, is finally our first and only chance at real peace in Mindanao.

I pray he will succeed, and I hope you, too, will. – Rappler.com

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