Mindanao security comments spark martial law jitters

Philippine activists speak out after official suggests military rule could be extended in southern region for another year
Mindanao security comments spark martial law jitters

Activists march in Manila to call for an end to martial law in the southern Philippines. The banner in the caption reads: "End martial law, increase jobs and wages." (Photo by Jire Carreon)

Activist and human rights groups in the Philippines have reacted angrily after the national security adviser indicated martial law could be extended in Muslim majority Mindanao for another year.

Such a move would only escalate violence, according to Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Philippine Independent Church.

He said military rule, which has been in force for two years has "decimated the democratic aspirations of the people due to fear and economic dislocation."

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, 2017, after Islamic State-inspired gunmen attacked the city of Marawi resulting in a five-month siege.

Congress has since extended it three times in the past two years due to reported violence in the southern region.

This week, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said he was inclined to recommend another extension.

He said threats from groups like the communist New People's Army and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters remain.

He said he might press for martial law to remain in force until the end of 2020.

The military, however, said it is still assessing the situation.

Military spokesman Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo pointed to bombings at a military camp in Sulu province on June 28 as an indication that the security situation is still unstable.

Bishop Calang, however, said various Church groups "are in unison in declaring that peace talks are the most viable means in addressing the root causes of armed conflict."

Beverly Musni of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao said one more year of martial law would pave the way for more human rights abuses.

"Martial law will mean more journalists, lawyers, church people, and activists being red tagged [branded communists] and being readied for the 'kill,'" she said.

Cristina Palabay of human rights group Karapatan said any such proposal would be "based on fear-mongering and on the drive to quell all forms of political dissent."

Weeks earlier, Duterte’s daughter, Davao City mayor Sara Duterte, said she would recommend to her father that martial law be lifted in Davao because the security situation had improved.

The military replied that although that might be the case in Davao, the same might not be said of other parts of Mindanao.

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