Martial law in Mindanao raises rights concerns

Jonathan de Santos - Philstar.com
Martial law in Mindanao raises rights concerns

Soldiers man a checkpoint on a highway in Maguindanao province. Philstar.com/John Unson, File photo

MANILA, Philippines — The declaration of martial law over Mindanao has raised concerns of potential human rights violations under an administration that has been at times hostile to the idea of upholding basic rights for suspects.
Emmanuel Amistad, executive director of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, said in a statement that the group is "deeply concerned" with the declaration on Tuesday night, which it warned could be "a slippery slope and will be at the expense of human rights, justice and peace."
TDFP, which called on President Rodrigo Duterte to take back the declaration, pointed out that a proclamation in September 2016 declaring a state of national emergency is still in place.
The declaration of a national emergency was done in response to a bomb attack on a Davao City night market.
"Is the Duterte administration admitting that it is powerless to curtail and contain lawless elements without special powers such as martial law? Is not the response too heavy-handed to handle the Maute group?" TDFP said.
The Maute group, a terror group inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, clashed with security forces in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur on Tuesday afternoon. The security operation against Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was believed to be linking up with Maute, resulted in fires and sporadic fighting across the city.
The government has been saying since Tuesday that it is in control of the situation and the armed forces Western Mindanao said Tuesday night that it was only conducting mopping up operations in the city. 
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Tuesday night that martial law may entail the imposition of curfews, the setting up of checkpoints and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
A copy of the martial law proclamation has yet to be released. 

'Martial law will aggravate insecurity'

Rights group Karapatan, in its own release, said it strongly protests the declaration, saying "it will not address the circumstances of the current situation in Marawi, but will aggravate the insecurity in the area." 
It warned that martial law "will never result to anything but gross violations of people's rights." It said that while it condemns attacks by the Maute group and is calling for an investigation, martial law is an uncalled for response.
"Martial Law will inevitably result in intensified military operations, including aerial strikes, which can kill and affect hundreds of civilians, and to an open season for extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests, torture and other forms of rights violations," Karapatan said.
Mags Maglana of Konsyensya Dabaw, meanwhile, said that "while the safety of civilians in Marawi and adjacent areas needs to be ensured, and the problems of lawlessness and ‘violent extremism’ have to be addressed, the declaration of martial law for the whole of Mindanao is unwarranted." 
Konsensya Dabaw said that "with past experiences of large-scale repression against Mindanawons, and so much at stake in Mindanao’s present and future, we cannot be trusting and naively believe that martial law under President Duterte would be a better experience." 
Duterte, in a video message on Tuesday morning, said that martial law in Mindanao "will not be any different from what the president, Marcos, did." Martial law in Mindanao under Marcos saw massacres in villages and large-scale military operations in areas like Jolo in Sulu.
Duterte, who has launched expletive-laden tirades against human rights advocates and has threatened to behead them, has said that he would be harsh.
Mindanao-based advocacy group Suara Bangsamoro likewise condemned the martial law declaration. The group said militarizing the entire region will not help solve the decades-old problem in the south such as landlessness and poverty.
“Suara Bangsamoro believes that urban militarization and aerial bombings will worsen the security crisis in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur. The group fears that civilian lives and livelihood will become collateral damage to a problem that is deeply rooted in landlessness and the Moro’s right to self-determination,” the group said in a statement.
Suara Bangsamoro spokesman Jerome Succor Aba said the Duterte administration must address the peace instability “through talks and diplomatic means.”

AFP vows 'martial law without abuse' 

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, Col. Edgard Arevalo of the military' public affairs office, has assured the public that the imposition of martial law will be done according to the law and with respect for human rights.
"We will do this without abuse, we will do this in consonance with existing laws," he said Wednesday. He said that only terrorists groups and sympathizers have anything to fear from martial law, a common response to similar rights concerns over the government's war on drugs.
New York-based Human Rights Watch, which has been critical of the drug war, urged the government "to ensure that the rights of all Filipinos are respected as it addresses violence and crime in the southern Philippines." 
Phil Robertson, HRW Asia Division deputy director, said "the Philippine Constitution contains guarantees for the protection of human rights and civil liberties during martial rule. We call upon the administration — as well as the Congress and the courts – to ensure that these important protections remain in force." 
The ruling PDP-Laban, which effectively controls both the Senate and the House of Representatives, on Wednesday declared support for the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
"We believe that a temporary state of martial law, used properly, can be an effective tool to achieve the peace and development in Mindanao that our party has fought for throughout our existence," PDP-Laban, which includes in its ranks Marcos critic and martial law victim former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., said.
"Terrorism is the enemy of peace and progress. It is the enemy of PDP-Laban and the entire Filipino people," the party declared.
While the president has the power to declare martial law under certain conditions, Congress can vote to reject the declaration.   
Konsyensya Dabaw, meanwhile, called on Filipinos "to refuse to endorse the blanket reasoning of violence and 'trouble in Mindanao.' As our painful experiences under Marcos bore out 'ang sakit ng kalingkingan ay dama ng buong katawan' and 'hindi pagpuputol ng paa ang solusyon sa rayuma.'" — with Elizabeth Marcelo

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