Martial law in Mindanao has been in force since the start of the Marawi siege. On 12 December 2018, the Filipino Congress extended it for another 12 months. According to Karapatan, since it was imposed, there have been six forced disappearances, 35 cases of torture, 28,813 cases of intimidation and more than 1,450 illegal arrests. Yet, most people remain in favour of President Duterte’s decision.
Mindanao (AsiaNews) – Over the past two years, civil and political rights have been violated more than 800,000 in Mindanao, this according to Karapatan, a human rights advocacy group established in 1995.
Since 23 May 2017, when Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law, the group has documented 93 cases of extrajudicial killings, 136 cases of frustrated extrajudicial killings, and more than 1,400 cases of illegal arrests,
On 12 December 2018, the Congress of the Philippines extended martial law by 12 months (until December 31 2019), making it the longest period under this provision since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
According to President Rodrigo Duterte, tight security measures are needed to prevent Islamic extremists from boosting their forces. However, for Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, “The Duterte government has perpetrated several myths about military rule and has intentionally propagated fear to justify the extension and passage of repressive policies.”
In her view, “Martial law did not bring about safety, but rather atrocities such as the Patikul massacre of 7 youths in September 2018, the Jolo twin bombings (against Jolo cathedral and a Zamboanga mosque) and corruption and abuses among the ranks of security forces.”
According to Karapatan, there have been six forced disappearances in Mindanao in two years, as well as 35 cases of torture; 28,813 cases of threat, harassment and intimidation, and 1,450 illegal arrests.
In 4,428 cases, schools, medical buildings, place of worship have been used for military purposes. The military carried out 348,081 acts of bombing and forcibly evacuated 423.538 people.
Yet, despite the difficulties brought by martial law, many in Mindanao remain in favour of the steps taken by the government.
"The president has managed to get strong popular support, as shown by the results of the mid-term elections,” a local source, anonymous for security reasons, told AsiaNews. “He convinced people that whilst Islamist rebels made peace with the government, Communist insurgents still represent a serious threat."
The president has repeatedly accused the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), of duplicity, calling them “terrorist organisations" and ending a thirty-year peace process.
"NPA fighters have lost support because they have been involved in violent episodes that affected the lives of ordinary people: they have killed members of the security forces and sometimes civilians in their operations.”
Another factor that made Duterte's security policies more popular is a new approach by the military in dealing with islanders.
"Unlike what happened under Marcos, soldiers now show themselves open to dialogue and respect for rights. Still, they continue to investigate schools and tribal or peasant organisations, accused of supporting the rebels.
"In Mindanao, some people oppose the security measures, but the voice of these people, like farmers, are not heard. For the wealthy, who are less affected by searches and checkpoints, all this is fine."