By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Progressive lawmakers of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives voted against the extension of martial law in Mindanao, as they reiterated the abuses committed by state security forces under the military solution to the armed conflict in Marawi city.
Voting 261-18 in a joint special session today July 22, both houses of Representatives and the Senate agreed to extend martial law in Mindanao up to Dec. 31 this year. Martial law allows the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and warrantless arrests.
Many of those who voted against the extension, including four senators, actually support martial law but want it extended only for 60 days, instead of the approved 150 days. The seven Makabayan solons, however, warned that the military solution to the crisis will only lead to worsening abuses, undermining of the civilian authority, and increased Moro unrest.
Security officials claimed that no complaints of human rights violations had been reported or received by their unit.
“It is not true that there were no human rights violations in Mindanao,” said Kabataan partylist Rep. Sarah Elago. She said that progressive groups have submitted documented cases of rights abuses, including: 68 political killings; 842 illegal arrests and detention; 416,000 victims of displacement; and 357,000 victims of indiscriminate firing and aerial bombings.
Gabriela Women’s Partylist (GWP) Rep. Arlene Brosas cited more cases of extrajudicial killings, forced evacuation and arrests committed by security forces against civilians outside the center of the conflict in Marawi City. These include the killing of a peasant in Davao del Sur by suspected soldiers, and the death of another civilian in an aerial bombing in North Cotabato.
“How can we say that (martial law) will ensure the safety of the people when we have these reports?” Brosas said.
ACT Teachers’ Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio lamented the human cost of the military solution, with the estimated 524,704 internally displaced persons – mostly Moro – from Marawi city and nearby areas.
“If (martial law) is continued up to the end of the year, how many more will be displaced?” Tinio said.
Tinio’s colleague, ACT Teachers’ Partylist Rep. France Castro asked Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to define human rights violation.
“No person shall be deprived of life, liberty and property without due process of law,” Lorenzana answered, citing the Bill of Rights.
“There are 222,000 students who did not enroll…is this not violation of human rights?” Castro asked.
Lorenzana insisted that the evacuation was not caused by the martial law, and people left on their own because of the occupation by the armed group Dawlah Islamiyah, but Castro rebutted that the people were threatened by aerial bombings, which also destroyed properties of tens of thousands of Marawi families.
Perhaps the strongest argument on human rights abuses was presented by Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, a Maranao from Marawi city and former member of the Bangsamoro Moro Transition Commission, who was asked by Senator Grace Poe to speak at the end of her turn during the questioning of security officials. She brought with her photos and documents of victims of human rights violations in Marawi.
Gutoc told the story of a 20-year-old special child whose hand was scalded and interrogated by soldiers who suspected him of being one of their enemies. There were also trapped civilians trying to escape who were forced by soldiers to walk with shirts wrapped over their heads and told “to dig your graves.”
Visibly emotional, Gutoc decried that the bodies of slain civilians littered the streets of Marawi, which is a taboo in Islam, which dictates that the dead are buried within the day.
GWP Rep. Emmi de Jesus, during her turn at the questioning, tried to bring Gutoc back to the podium to speak about the effect of aerial bombings, but House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez did not allow it. De Jesus lamented that the affected civilians are not heard enough in Congress’ decision-making.
“Soldiers are not the only ones on the ground. The people are also on the ground and they are witness to the effects of martial law,” De Jesus said.
Meanwhile, Commission on Human Rights chairman Chito Gascon only said they “are still in the middle of receiving reports and conducting its own investigation,” with complaints of rights abuses from NGO and CHR regional units.
Tinio questioned Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año, the implementor of martial law, about the guidelines he issued on May 23, the “Operational Directive for the implementation of martial law.” The directive, 02-2017, supposedly also covers situations in cases of civilian authorities failing to function or in cases of “near-violent civil unrest or natural disasters.”
Tinio said this goes against the provision for martial law in the 1987 Constitution, which shall only be in case of rebellion or invasion. Año, however, no longer responded to Tinio as his four-minute time ran out.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate asked who was supposed to determine if there was “threat to public safety.”
In response, Medialdea said: “Public safety is on the basis of the personal assessment of the President. That’s his call.”
Duterte had repeatedly said that he relies only on what the military and police tell him, and depends on their assessment of the situation. Progressives have criticized this as the President’s leaning towards militarism.
Meanwhile, to fund the extended martial law, Defense Secretary Lorenzana said they will ask the President for a supplemental budget. But when Elago asked for an estimate, the officials were stumped.
“I have no idea, frankly,” said Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.
Elago bewailed that such additional fund for military operations could be used for social services, such as school construction.
The progressive lawmakers also warned that the military operations and rights abuses will worsen Moro restlessness.
“We have learned in history that the military solution will not resolve the historical, social problems that beset Mindanao and the whole Philippines. What the people need are jobs, services, justice in Mindanao – not martial law,” Tinio said.
“Imbes na mapuksa ang apoy ng rebelyon …hindi ba lalo natin itong napapalakas dahil sa karahasan (Instead of suppressing the fire of rebellion, are we not fueling it through the use of force)?” she told the plenary. “It seems that we have not done enough for history to stop repeating itself,” Elago added.