By Tonyo Cruz
Marawi is said to be Mindanao’s Kilometer Zero, the reference point for all roads in the island. It is now developing as a reference point to what kind of president Duterte really is and how we as a people respond to him and to national problems.
As of press time, the nation awaits both President Duterte’s return from his shortened trip to Moscow, and the text of his martial law proclamation over the whole of Mindanao.
There’s no dispute that Duterte has the power to proclaim martial law. But such power comes with limitations, and he now has obligations to fulfill: release to the public the actual proclamation; to report to Congress about it before the lapse of the 48-hour deadline as laid down by the Constitution; and to accomplish the objective of his decision to use his extraordinary powers.
Congress must now comply with its constitutional duty to examine the basis, objective, and duration of Duterte’s martial law proclamation. But in fact, any citizen may go to the Supreme Court to question Duterte’s action.
It is easy to fall into the trap of favoring harsh measures, given the reports of mayhem perpetrated by the Maute Group. Quite unfortunately, this martial law could accomplish what Maute Group wants to do to Marawi and worse. Martial law has since been declared not just in Marawi but in all of the 27 provinces and 33 cities of Mindanao.
Even prior to Duterte’s martial law proclamation, Suara Bangasamoro had already spoken forcefully against the actions of both the Maute Group and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Its leaders demand an immediate end to the fighting, and the endangering of the civilian population of the Philippines’ only Islamic City.
The point is, people in Manila and areas far away from Mindanao should be concerned but prudent at the same time. It is easy to express respect or support for martial law against the Maute Group. But it has also been easy to be prone to Islamophobia and to say martial law could be the “final solution” to reach that elusive peace in Mindanao.
It does not help that the Duterte administration has not released the actual martial law proclamation, and that the military has not been totally honest to the public. It also doesn’t help that pro-Duterte and anti-Duterte partisans are both misusing the Marawi incident for their selfish ends.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers has assailed the martial law proclamation as a “sledgehammer, knee-jerk reaction” to the incidents gripping Marawi.
Lest we forget: The Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the New People’s Army also operate in Mindanao. US military forces may also be present in many areas of the island, although we cannot be certain given that the Visiting Forces Agreement does not oblige the Americans to disclose the number of US troops, location and duration of stay. (Yes, the same US military that helped form and once coddled the Abu Sayyaf, Taliban, and ISIS.) Elsewhere, military and paramilitary groups guard foreign-owned big mining and big plantations involved in exploitative and/or illegal practices against farmworkers and Lumads.
How Duterte’s martial law will affect these different forces, only time will tell. The Mindanao-wide martial law proclamation has the potential of turning the multi-layered conflicts in the island from bad to worse.
NUPL and other legal eagles have also reminded us that Duterte’s proclamation of a state of lawless violence, signed in the aftermath of the Davao bombing, is still in force. The extra powers granted by that edict could be enough to call out the military to accomplish Duterte’s objectives against the Maute Group.
NUPL has called on Duterte to recall the martial law proclamation, and to order the military to stop aerial bombings, mortar shelling, and other forms of military offensives that endanger civilians and non-combatants in Marawi.
We owe the people of Marawi and ourselves lots this time: give full solidarity with their plight as legit members of our nation; to demand the protection of civilians and non-combatants; to stop warmongering and promote understanding of the complex issues of Mindanao; to resist all forms of Islamophobia; to hold officials accountable for possible abuse of powers; and to say no to the misuse of their heartbreaking situation for political ends.
We citizens play a key role in helping make sure peace is restored, hopefully in time for the start of the holy month of Ramadan on May 27.
Marawi is our Islamic City, home to the Maranaos and the Mindanao State University, and reference point for Mindanao’s roads. Nobody should cheapen it as a political toy. Neither should it be the epicenter for new wars on multiple fronts.
Follow me on Twitter @tonyocruz
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