Sylvia Estrada Claudio
It is almost two weeks since fighting began in Marawi City and two weeks since martial law was declared in Mindanao.
And yet the people of Marawi continue to suffer. The crisis has entered its third week. A crisis that has caused the loss of lives, homes and has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
As soon as I heard the news, I knew that there were those who would not appreciate someone who is not from Marawi or Mindanao for making comments.
To some extent this reaction is understandable. Mindanao has long been discriminated against by people in “imperial Manila”. Because it is farthest from the seat of power, because it is populated by religious and tribal minority groups, because it was but a few generations ago considered a frontier and underdeveloped place, it has had its share of being told what to do with itself by people who wanted only to benefit from disenfranchising Mindanao.
On the other hand, this reaction is counterproductive and illogical. First, not everyone in Mindanao is free from the kind of prejudices that have caused the problems in Mindanao. Not everyone is free from the bad habit of giving knee-jerk opinions. The converse is also true in that Filipinos from all parts of the country have compassion for Mindanao, an understanding of its realities, and the capacity to make correct recommendations.
Second, Mindanao is part of the Philippines and the declaration of martial law in Mindanao is a profound national event. Mindanao is indeed a part of the Philippines and all Filipinos are now called upon to extend their understanding and compassion to Marawi and its people. All of us must consider what martial law in Mindanao means for the whole nation.
I for one have taken some time to read and learn from the many discussions that this tragedy has evoked. I have given special attention to the voices from Marawi and Mindanao. Here is what I have learned and concluded.
Safety of ordinary citizens
This is the ongoing concern. Calls that oppose all military operations in Mindanao are unacceptable. The city is indeed under siege and military force is justified.
What we have is a humanitarian crisis in the making. By the fifth day of crisis, 80% of Marawi had evacuated. Many had the luxury of moving in with family in nearby Iligan City, but many more had to move into evacuation centers.
But the crisis is not due to the destruction directly caused by the terrorists. At this time the greatest cause of destruction is the military response, particularly the aerial bombings.
Over the past two weeks I have seen on social media heart-rending individual stories of Marawi residents. It is clear that they accept the need for government force but they are feeling that their lives, homes and communities are equally threatened by the bombings. Both citizens and community leaders are urging a stop to the bombings.
Part of the problem may be that our military does not have the necessary equipment that will allow accurate targeting of sites. This has caused widescale destruction. It has also caused the deaths of innocent people including our own soldiers.
Divided on proper level of force
It is not, however, merely the bombings in Marawi that are causing anxiety and debate. Even among Mindanawons, there is a difference of opinion as to whether martial law is the appropriate response. One of the earliest calls to reconsider the declaration of martial law is the Mindanao-based group Konsensya Dabaw. They raise the same concerns that many other groups have raised as to whether martial law for the entire Mindanao is the proper response. Among these is the statement of 5 Ateneo University presidents across the country.
For one thing, Marawi is but a very small part of the whole of Mindanao. We have also been told repeatedly by the military that the situation is under control and that the Maute fighters in Marawi are not a huge force.
Both Konsensya Dabaw, the presidents of Ateneo and various other groups have reminded the nation of the nightmare experience that was martial law under Ferdinand Macos.
While it is true that Mindanawons say they feel safer because the military has been called, I for one need to ask whether this is an equally worrisome situation because public safety and security is a police matter. For people to feel the need for military action implies that the government has failed in its promise to provide peace and security.
The Philippine Constitution (and that of most other countries) considers martial law as an extraordinary and grave remedy. It is a last resort. It is not meant to solve daily issues of peace and order. It is not meant to solve terrorist attacks. As some have pointed out, this is the first time that a terrorist attack has evoked a martial law response. A very similar situation was the MNLF attack in Zamboanga in 2013. This did not require martial law. More serious attacks in other countries such as the bombing of the twin towers in New York did not elicit a martial law declaration.
Duterte increases our anxieties
In a recent speech at the Ateneo, Chief Justice Sereno gave Filipinos a clear explanation of what we agreed upon when the nation ratified the current Constitution in 1987. She makes clear that it is within the rights of the President to declare martial law. But she also makes clear that because the country has suffered from the Marcos period, the framers of our Constitution put extra safeguards to ensure that history would not repeat itself.
She is clear that a repeat of the horrible past depends both upon the vigilance of people and the Duterte administration’s willingness "to take sufficient care to abide by the Constitution and the laws."
The statement made by the President that his martial law will be just like Marcos’ martial law and that it will be “harsh”; his condonation of rape committed by his soldiers (in Mindanao where we have the largest number of Muslims and indigenous peoples); and his statement that he has no intention of obeying the Supreme Court – are causing more anxiety and resistance. These are in fact sufficient reasons to fear the political vendettas and massive human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship. It contradicts his assurances that martial law is a necessary and judicious act that he undertakes without any thought of perpetuating himself in power.
It also does not help that the President has been threatening us with martial law, long before the troubles in Marawi. This makes it look like this incident has been used as a trigger for something he has always wanted to do. As Konsensya Dabaw notes: “Beginning March 2017, President Duterte has publicly talked about putting in effect martial law in Mindanao in order to ‘finish”’ all its problems.”
Congress fails the nation
In refusing to review he declaration of martial law, Congress has failed the nation.
It is not merely that they are now in violation of their Constitutional duty. Any constitutional expert worth their name will tell you that the Constitution is unequivocal that the President must report to Congress within 48 hours and that Congress must convene in order review the proclamation of martial law.
It is also that the people are divided on this issue and fearful. The review process, if done with integrity would have helped allay people’s fears or could have given critical feedback to the Duterte administration about how to handle the threats in Marawi and Mindanao.
Instead, Congress has shown itself to be overly compliant. A group who have no concept of the checks and balances mandated by the Constitution. They have chosen political expediency over their duty to serve us with integrity. This Congress is so much like the rubber stamp legislatures of the Marcos dictatorship. They are adding to the fear and insecurity instead of helping allay it.
Sacrificing present for future
No one can disagree that deep systematic and structural issues are at the root of the security problems that beset the nation and particularly Mindanao.
People-centered and equitable development of Mindanao are the real and final solutions to these problems. But this cannot be achieved without basic values like respect, tolerance, religious freedoms, freedom of expression and dissent.
The bombings in Marawi and martial law are at cross purposes to these goals.
If Congress and the Duterte administration will not practice restraint then it falls once again to the people to ensure that the rule of law and rights be ensured in this period of fear and anxiety.
The suffering of the people of Marawi and the declaration of martial law in Mindanao are matters of grave national concern. All of us must take the time to be properly informed. We must be able to debate each other and accept political differences.
At the moment the well-being of our nation is at peril and we must rely on each other’s wisdom to ensure the survival of our democracy. – Rappler.com