Group calls for lifting of Mindanao martial law amid suggestion to limit it

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
martial law
In this file photo, students hold a rally near Malacañang in Manila to mark the first month of President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
The STAR / Edd Gumban, File photo

MANILA, Philippines — Martial law in Mindanao should be lifted instead of being retained in areas that the military identifies as having security problems, an activist groups for workers and farmers said Monday.

Ariel Casilao, former Anakpawis party-list rep, said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines' recent recommendation of a "selective" martial law rule in Mindanao was an outright admission of its lack of basis.

"The term 'selective' is a misnomer, it means that there is no invasion or rebellion, no urgency whatsoever, government institutions are supposedly working, thus, there is totally no basis for a martial law," Casilao said in a press statement calling for the lifting of martial law, which was declared in May 2017.

The 1987 Constitution allows the declaration of martial law in case of invasion or rebellion.

Casilao's statement came in response to the AFP Western Mindanao Command's recommendation to place select areas under military rule.

"I don't recommend [placing] the whole of Mindanao [under martial rule]. We want to limit the scope in the areas where there are security problems," Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana told reporters, citing the Abu Sayyaf as a security threat in the region.

"Martial law in Mindanao is useless as it could not even prevent heinous crimes in the major island. It is just an instrument against legal democratic activists, it has undermined democracy and human rights of the people. It should be lifted immediately," Casilao said.

A couple was abducted from a coastal town in Zamboanga del Sur earlier this month, which presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said was an isolated case and not an indication that martial law is not working.

"Sometimes you can’t avoid them," Panelo said. 

Martial law in Mindanao since 2017

The president placed Mindanao under martial law following the Marawi City siege in 2017. It has been extended three times upon the request of Duterte himself.

There was talk from security officials in July, of yet another extension.

Activists and human rights groups have long been calling for the end of martial law in Mindanao, which they say has been marked by wanton arrests, trumped-up charges and human rights abuses.

Melissa Comiso, head of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Northern Mindanao Sub-Region’s Literacy and Numeracy Program, was reportedly arrested by police operatives on October 10. 

According to a 2018 report by International Alert Philippines, the imposition of Martial Law in Muslim Mindanao—the area covered by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao—led to a marked decrease in violent conflict in the region. The report, however, noted that the level of violence was still significantly higher than it was before the spike in conflict deaths. 

The Davao City Council in August formally requested the Palace to lift martial law in their area, claiming that the city has been enjoying a "very good peace and order situation." 

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