CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Cases of human rights violations continue to pile up two years after martial law was declared in Mindanao resulting from the conflict in Marawi City that flared up on May 23, 2017, that ran for several months, civil society organizations said Friday.
“The martial law in Mindanao was clearly used as a weapon of the government for ‘counter-terrorism’ or ‘peace-building,’ against its perceived enemies. It is used as a weapon to justify attacks against the Moro people and the progressive groups,” said Fr. Rolando Abejo, spokesperson of Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) in Northern Mindanao.
The extension of military rule twice, Abejo said, has even emboldened the state forces to commit “terrorist acts” in peasant and tribal communities in some areas in Mindanao with strong organizations that demand the right to land and basic social services.
In the region, MAT noted that multiple trumped-up charges were filed against leaders and members of people’s organizations to send a chilling effect among activists and human rights defenders.
“Activists and community development workers, church people, lawyers, teachers, journalists, and students are being demonized, tagged as rebels in hitlists, and harassed,” it added.
Martial law, Abejo said, “has created more conditions for the impunity of state forces to continue threatening, harassing, and inflicting violence against communities and people’s organizations, both in the countryside and in the cities.”
“We are far from achieving the peace that is based on genuine justice. The government’s [martial law narrative is that of a false sense of security. Underneath is a rotten system littered with bodies of suspects who died without the benefit of due process, and where critics are silenced through trumped-up charges and other nefarious machinations,” he said.
As a result of the implementation of the martial rule, human rights watchdog Karapatan has documented 93 cases of extrajudicial killings, 136 cases of frustrated extrajudicial killings, 35 cases of torture, 1,450 cases of illegal arrests, 28,813 cases of threat, harassment and intimidation, and 423,538 victims of forced evacuation in Mindanao.
“The people are deprived of the truth and are instead being fed with more schemes to scare them into submission. Various incidents under martial law are either swept under the rug or blatantly whitewashed,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary-general.
The rights group also reiterated that after two years, the residents of Marawi have yet to return to their homes.
“Dispelling the myths being peddled by the government on the implementation of martial law would reveal an ineffective approach in addressing the root causes of the social problems which have fueled armed conflicts in Mindanao. Military rule has aggravated the problem and has resulted in military abuse and blatant cover-ups,” Palabay added.
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the issue of the displacement of the people of Marawi has continued to persist two years after the war erupted.
“Despite the numerous aid efforts that have truly helped those in need over the two years, the people of Marawi have grown tired and frustrated. They want to stand on their own two feet and stop depending on assistance,” said Martin Thalmann, head of the ICRC delegation in the Philippines.
Although the government is trying to address complex issues so that the rehabilitation of the city’s most affected area could begin, the conflict has left more vulnerable groups, such as families of missing people and victims of violence, with “invisible” scars, Thalmann said.
The coalition Reclaiming Marawi Movement (RMM), in a separate statement said that it is critical of the rehabilitation of Marawi being dependent on private corporate efforts, be they foreign or local businesses, expressing the view that people’s needs should hold prominence rather profit margins.
“Marawi is part of our identity and any and all rehabilitation efforts should take into and be respectful of our social, economic, political, and cultural rights. We merit a safe and dignified return and demand that the government rebuilds that they have destroyed,” Dalomabi Bula, RMM’s focal person, said. (davaotoday.com)