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EDITORIAL - Don’t squander public trust

If there’s one thing that’s muting protests against the extension of martial law all over Mindanao, it’s a high level of public trust in the troops that are enforcing military rule.

The one-year extension is still going to the Supreme Court. Whether or not the extension sought by President Duterte and approved overwhelmingly by Congress is supported by the public, the SC will have to rule on the constitutionality of a move that allows martial law to be in place way beyond the 60-day period of the original imposition stipulated in the Constitution.

In the meantime, the enforcers of martial law are busy allaying fears that the one-year extension would invite human rights abuses. Similar fears were raised when President Duterte declared martial law all over Mindanao for the first time in May as Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists inspired by the Islamic State laid siege to Marawi. The same fears were raised when the original 60-day period lapsed and Congress agreed to extend martial law until the end of this year.

That the government managed to allay the fears was due in large part to the way the Armed Forces of the Philippines conducted the war in Marawi. The AFP convinced a jittery nation that it is not dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ military, and that it will stand in the way of attempts to use military rule for purposes other than defense against enemies of the state. School children wrote letters of support to soldiers in the frontlines. Those returning from the battlefield received a heroes’ welcome as the Marawi terrorists and their top supporters were arrested or killed.

Several groups are reportedly gathering witnesses and evidence to refute the stories of heroism and prove that human rights abuses were in fact committed by the AFP during the siege. For now, however, the AFP generally enjoys sufficient trust to persuade the public that those deployed to enforce martial law for a year will behave responsibly and with respect for civil liberties.

The AFP has come a long way from the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship, regaining public trust even as it admits lapses and promises to deal with human rights violators in its midst. It must not squander that trust in the next phase of its fight in Mindanao.

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