POLL: What do Mindanaoans really think of martial law?

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Despite the end of the conflict in Marawi, martial law is still in effect today, with both House and Senate recently voting to extend it for a third time. Mindanaoans weigh in on the extension of martial law in their region.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In response to the Marawi siege back in May 2017, the Duterte administration declared a state of martial law across the whole Mindanao island.

However, despite the end of the conflict in Marawi, martial law is still in effect today, with both House and Senate recently voting to extend it for a third time. The new extension will now last until the end of 2019.

According to this administration, rebellion is still ongoing in several conflict areas, and that martial law is the only way to quash the rebellion and finally secure peace for Mindanao. But what do actual Mindanaoans think of martial law and its extension? Is it truly the solution to the security problem, or is its existence driving a rise in abuses of power in the island?

Cecille Turrecha, 24, youth programs volunteer from Cagayan de Oro

As a Mindanaoan, I firmly believe that there can be several means in achieving peace and trying to secure the area than martial law. Though strong visibility of police, military, and checkpoints are being implemented during martial law and have made the people feel more secure especially after what happened in Marawi, we still see rising number of threats and attacks from those who seek to disturb peace.

Some of my friends would even say that there is really not much of a difference of imposing martial law because having a heightened alert after a threat is what usually happens. Some though are also afraid that this “additional power” might be abused, which then deviates from their “purpose” of implementing it.

I am for peace, but the means to it must not deviate from the very purpose of it all. This is different from the peace we have imagined and how it should be.

May Fiel Divino, 23, youth leader from Davao

Personally, ‘di ko ma-feel na may martial law. ‘Yung situation now sa Davao, same lang even before martial law. Parang walang martial law kasi walang changes. But of course, di lang sarili iniisip ko. Nababasa ko sa news ang bad effects ng martial law sa far-flung communities: schools being bombed; IPs being killed, abused, and displaced. But then sadly, ‘yun naman talaga [ang] kalagayan ng mga IPs even before martial law.

In short, I don’t think our city needs martial law kasi if we base it on our Constitution, the only grounds for martial law is invasion or rebellion. For Marawi, I think the declaration of martial law was necessary because the city was already invaded by terrorists. But as for Davao and other cities, there’s no need. Since tapos naman din ‘yung war sa Marawi. But ending martial law doesn’t mean na hindi na maging strict sa security.

Val Vestil, 23, Advocacy and Comms Officer of Ateneo SUGPAT from Zamboanga

I have been to many corners in Mindanao, for either residency, leisure, or work, and I must say nothing much has changed. Life since martial law was declared here has been lived in normalcy — I still go out to the same hotspots, I still walk the streets at night with no fears of abduction. The only difference — and I think this is why I feel that it is necessary — is that I feel a lot safer.

Violent extremism here in the South is not a myth and as a civilian, I am at constant unrest. The increased presence of the military has however helped pacify what I feel. Contrary to what some friends feel about getting up and close with the military, I am met with only warm and polite officers who simply do their jobs at checkpoints. No, the city doesn’t shut down at 7 p.m. (Umuuwi kasi ako 1 a.m., and this is Zamboanga ha, where there is heightened alert); and no, the military men don’t cadence the streets like predators looking for their prey; and most definitely no, I am not stripped off of my human rights or civilian privileges.

There is no place in the world that is safe because danger breeds anywhere. But in the context of a Mindanaoan living in Mindanao, I can say that I am at peace with the current situation of martial law in my province.

Alfie Agang, 25, LGU staff from Alabel, Sarangani

The declaration of martial law in Mindanao is triggered by the presence of alleged ISIS-inspired group Maute in Marawi City. Marawi City, a city that is known to be peaceful, is now a ghost and war-zone city between the Maute and the military.

Though martial law was declared to [quell] terrorist group/s in the city and protect the people from rebel insurgencies, it brings a big question on the perception of the critical situation not only in Mindanao but also in the global community. Interestingly, with the experience of Marawi City, martial law was extended and implemented in the entire Mindanao. Curfews are strictly implemented in different localities and checkpoints are tightened to ensure that no members of the said terrorist or rebel group will enter various places in Mindanao and will spread violence or terrors.

As a Mindanaoan and headed by a first Mindanaoan President Rodrigo Duterte, I know it is imperative to maintain peace and order in Mindanao so as to safeguard people from the horrors of terrorism and violence; however, the declaration of martial law proliferates many armed groups. The imposition of martial law in Mindanao accompanies stricter curfews, the suspension of civil rights, habeas corpus, and the application of military justice to civilians. This is alarming given the sole reason that anyone can be put in jail without trials in the court or having no court order if accused as part of an anti-government group or lawless element. The government should think of a long-term solution to address lawlessness, violent extremism, and terrorism.

Claire Demetrio*, 26, store manager from Davao

I don’t think Davao felt the impact of martial law as much as the other provinces of Mindanao because ever since before, rules that were thought to be for martial law were implemented already: checkpoints, liquor ban, etc. As for how necessary it is to extend martial law — I’m against it because I feel that the longer it is established, the more likely there will be abuse from those in power. And if Davao could implement rules that are similar to those in martial law, then other provinces can probably implement depending on their needs, which would make martial law unnecessary, don’t you think?

I’ve heard other provinces are not used to the stricter policies and checkpoints, kaya nanibago sila sa martial law, and mas naging traffic because of the checkpoints. There’s also the stigma of martial law that a lot of people in Mindanao have to deal with — investors were scared to invest in Mindanao when they heard that there was martial law, [because of] the whole idea na Mindanao is in chaos which is not the case naman.

When I travel outside of Davao, medyo may kaba kapag sobrang daming military because it might mean danger zone siya, pero then again, with or without martial law, marami kang military na makikita.

Kloyde Caday, 25, instructor from Koronadal City

You can rarely get an opposition in Mindanao regarding martial law because that might read as defying one’s friends, teachers, or parents who are loyalists. We always get expressions of approval among social media platforms by Mindanaoans, but we must never miss what lies beneath these opinions. It’s coming from the sentiments of privileged urban residents better taken care of by soldiers. The question really is, have we really seen the effects of martial law?

One must draw the nuances among different areas in Mindanao. Mindanao isn’t just Davao or Gensan or CDO. While big cities experience martial law just by enduring queues of checkpoints, there are definitely little-known human rights violation cases in rural areas in Mindanao, like in Compostela Valley, Lianga, Surigao del Sur, and other places where attacks between AFP and residents do happen. It’s time to acknowledge our privilege, that if we are comfortable with the uneven imposition, there are others in Mindanao whose civil liberties are trampled upon, or worse, rights are violated without them knowing.

Martial law extension worries me because it sends a message that visibility of armed men is normal. As we see, the public outrage on martial law has subsided. Parang napagod na rin ang iba. Martial law is just false security that paves way for more violations.

Nizam Pabil, 26, Executive Director of Office on Bangsamoro Youth Affairs from Lanao del Sur

In a democratic country like the Philippines, martial law should always be the last resort in dealing with a crisis as it potentially hampers with the rights of people. This means that the government should ensure first that it has used other measures before declaring a martial law. The declaration of martial law is wrong and unnecessary, as the government has failed to establish the ‘clear and present danger’ in the entire Mindanao argument. [It is] unnecessary as other measures, especially with the help of other stakeholders, could have been explored first. The government failed to see how the declaration can potentially affect the ongoing peace process, the lives of those living in conflict areas, and also what message it creates for other areas in Mindanao.

As a Mindanaoan, it is frustrating that the immediate response of this government to a crisis is military rule. History tells us how it hasn’t only worked but even led to the darkest times in our country. The martial law declaration during Marcos regime actually triggered a lot of the conflicts we are currently trying to address in Muslim Mindanao: Jabidah Massacre, Palimbang Massacre.

*Name has been changed upon request.