Discussing the threats on human rights, the economy, national minorities, and peace process in Mindanao, after more than a year under martial law, representatives from research groups and human rights organizations convened at the UP CAL AVR on November 16, Friday.

The forum “Digging the Ruins Assessment of Martial Law in Mindanao” was organized by the University of the Philippines Association of Political Science Majors.

Speakers from Ibon Foundation, Center for Lumad Advocacy Networking and Services (CLANS), Save Our Schools (SOS) Network, KARAPATAN Alliance for Advancement of People’s Rights, Kapayapaan Campaign for Just and Lasting Peace (KAPAYAPAAN) assessed the current situation in Mindanao after Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Carlito Galvez Jr. and Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Director General Oscar Albayalde expressed their support for another martial law extension to sustain peace and order in the region during the event.

Threat to human rights

Human rights group Karapatan defined martial law as putting the military at the center of the government, overriding the basic notion of the Philippine constitution which is civilian supremacy over the military.

The Philippines has a total of 300,000 military personnel and 60% of them are deployed in Mindanao alone, according to Deputy Information Officer Gerifel Cerillo.

“Massive military deployment in the region creates a chilling effect in the whole community because of severe threat, tailing, and harassment,” Cerillo said. In the legal context, the chilling effect refers to the discouragement among people to exercise freedom of speech because of fear.

Cerillo further explained that the military threatens human rights because they operate in “mercenary tradition,” wherein they resolve conflict through guns and violence.

To provide context to this violent tradition, Cerillo recounted the case of Janry Mensis, 22, and Jerry (not his real name), 17, who, in December 2017, were ordered by AFP Eastern Mindanao Command Unit to dig their own graves in the mountainous part of Compostela Valley before they were burned alive.

The victims pretended to be dead and escaped after the soldiers left, sustaining third-degree burns.

Cerillo said all the young men could tell her was, “Alam mo, Ate, ngayon ko lang nalaman hindi pala madaling silaban ang tao. Una ay ihulog sa kanila yung matchstick hindi nagliliyab, so sanga ang unang sinilaban at inihulog sa kanila hindi nagliliyab so bubuhasan (sila) ng galon galon na gas para magliyab,”

Meanwhile, the military command unit identified by the victims dismissed the issue as plain propaganda, Cerillo said.

Attacks on national minorities    

Attacks against schools of indigenous people in Mindanao ballooned because of militarization, based on data collated by SOS Network . A staggering 535 cases of attacks against schools were documented from July 2016 to April 2018 under the current administration, compared to a total of 346 attacks documented in the six years of Aquino administration.

Geming Alonzo, Executive Director of CLANS, said attacks against national minorities continue because the military never leaves the premises of Lumad communities, even staying in their schools.

From 2016 to 2017, SOS Network documented 17 teachers illegally arrested and detained, one Lumad student tortured, four schools destroyed, and 500 students threatened. At present, 58 schools were shut down affecting more than 2,000 students, many of whom were consequently unable to graduate last year.

The two most recent cases are the death of a Grade 6 student named Obillo Bay-ao who was shot dead in September 2017 by two paramilitary men in Talaingod, Davao Del Norte, and the Patikul massacre in Sulu last September 14 with seven people slain involving one Moro youth.

Peace process downslide

In the light of the peace process in Mindanao, Sharon Cabusao-Silva, convenor of Kapayapaan, said the early part of the Duterte administration signified progress in peace negotiation.

In August 2016, when President Duterte assumed office, he allowed the release of 18 political consultants of the National Democratic Front (NDF).

Cabusao-Silva said this gave hope for the peace process because it was the first time in Philippine history that  several political prisoners were released by the government.

During that time, talks about land reform and national industrialization were alive all over the country. Plans were being settled on how to adjust political structure that would effectively implement these economic reforms, but the momentum was not sustained.

Later on, Cabusao-Silva said the ceasefire between the New People’s Army (NPA) and AFP ended because of incidents wherein the latter did not follow through with agreements.

“The Marawi bombing in May 2017 signaled the serious cancellation of peace talks and the downward trend in peace negotiation, resulting to the implementation of Martial Law in Mindanao and the recapture of the political consultants of NDF,” Cabusao-Silva said.

The signing of the Hague Joint Declaration in 1992 was also mentioned as a very important achievement in peace negotiation. Cabusao noted that this is a very crucial step in the peace process because unlike other peace talks, it didn’t demand the laying down of arms from Moro groups first.

“Sino nga naman ang estadong papansin sa ‘yo kung wala ka naman palang baril at wala ka namang political strength?” Cabusao asked.

She ended by explaining that in the eyes of members of the NDF, they only have political bargaining power in the government because of weapons. Furthermore, laying down of arms before the peace talks would mean surrender for Moro groups rather than equal negotiation with the state.

An economic ploy

Aside from human rights situation in Mindanao, martial law also holds serious economic implications, according to Ibon Foundation Research Head Rosario Guzman.

The ongoing economic rehabilitation in Marawi is a form of  “disaster capitalism,” where catastrophic events are used as an avenue to implement neoliberal or pro-foreign policies, Guzman said.

In fact, she noted that not less than a month after Marawi siege, there was an influx of investors expressing desire to reconstruct Marawi.

“We have Martial law dahil may gustong ekonomiya na ipataw sa atin,” Guzman said.

She believes that what is transpiring in Marawi can be characterized as an orchestrated raid on the public sphere where the situation is treated as an exciting market opportunity.Thus, she challenged people to be critical  of the economic motives underlying the implementation of Martial Law in the first place.

Currently, after a series of tug of war between investors from the US and China who want to pioneer the rehabilitation, Power Construction Corporation of China was chosen by the Duterte administration last August. Guzman also pointed out that it was only in October that bidding for the rehabilitation was opened for local construction companies.

“Everyone should be wary of development and economic gains attributed to the implementation of martial law because semi-private institutions already pitched an unsolicited plan for the rehabilitation of the area, meaning no inhabitants were even consulted,”advised Guzman.

In the end, the speakers call on the Duterte administration to consider the overall effect of martial law on  the lives of people in Mindanao in deciding its cancellation or further extension.

Photo by Kriscel Carandang


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