Today, we, the national minorities under Sandugo – Movement of Moro and Indigenous People for Self-Determination marched along the streets of Manila towards the gate of Malacanan to call on the President Rodrigo Duterte to lift martial law now. For us, martial law in Mindanao only brought chaos and more suffering for the people especially for the Bangsamoro, Lumad and peasants.
Marawi, the land of uncertainty
The war on Marawi broke out when the Armed Forces of the Philippines tried to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon on this very day last year. On the same day, President Duterte, surrounded by his military officials in a visit in Russia, declared martial law in Mindanao. As if rehearsed, bombs started to drop in the city of Marawi causing hundreds of thousands to evacuate, mostly women, children and elderly. As part of the Muslim culture, men are responsible to look after their turfs and protect their family’s belonging, so many had to stay behind. Some were able to get out of the war zone eventually but many remain missing up to this date.
The Philippine government seemed to be so ready to go to war but was never prepared to respond to the affected civilians. Even after a year, the Meranaw people are still in evacuations centers or living with relatives in the periphery of Marawi City receiving no or minimal help from the national government. Although many have been allowed to go back to Marawi, they are forced to live in shelters the government built for them but the residents want to rebuild their homes, not be confined in raw houses that only cater to nuclear families.
The Philippine government also seem to be contented to provide relief packs to the people and some housing as a token ‘rehabilitation’ effort. Even up to now, there seem to be no plan to rebuild Marawi and bring the people get back on their feet. Instead, the government even encourages people to go elsewhere, like in other provinces, by providing a meager transportation and start-up assistance of P5,000.
The issue of land titles in Marawi has become a major issue for people to be allowed to go back and build their homes. We all know that the Bangsamoro never had titles, for centuries, they were able to cultivate and live in the same land given to them by their fathers and their forefathers. But when the war broke out, titles became a requirement as if saying “You can not come back here anymore.” This may, in effect, unearth already resolved land disputes among the people who want to use the opportunity to own more lands.
Unfortunately, no comprehensive study can be made to provide independent data on the real numbers of casualties of civilians because of the martial law. Every information is still controlled by the military. And for the AFP, it seems all Muslims killed during the war belong to the ISIS-inspired Maute Group in order to evade accountability to the civilian lives lost during the bombings.
Ground zero even seemed to be still a warzone even months after the declared “liberation” of Marawi. No one is allowed to enter ground zero without the permission of ‘higher up’ officials. What is in there that needs to be protected?
The Bangsamoro are angry on what has happened to the Meranaws. It is likely that more Moro will be encouraged to launch a war against the government to seek justice to their tragedy. Another jihad maybe brewing.
Mindanao – the land of resistance
The very basis of the declaration of martial law – the threat of ISIS – has long been declared crushed. Yet, there is still martial law in Mindanao. Why? According to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, there is still the threat of terrorists in Mindanao. But who are the terrorists – the civilians? They seem to be the target of this regime’s martial law.
Within that year, the people of Mindanao, especially those in the abundant lands which are ancestral domains of the Lumad and territories of the Bangsamoro are suffering from intense military operations which resulted to massive evacuations, closure of Lumad schools, heightened extrajudicial killings warrantless arrests, torture and filing of trumped up charges against activists, community leaders and members.
During the martial law, there are about 385 documented incidents on attacks on Lumad schools perpetrated by Philippine Army. 27 Lumad alone are killed, (aside from the greater number of peasants and farm workers killed) while half a million have evacuated.
Was Lorenzana referring to the New People’s Army when he said terrorist threat? This maybe why the Duterte regime wants to proscribe the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army as a terrorist group. Yet, ill effect of this move came clashing to those unarmed national minority leaders of local mass organizations and their communities, having their names included in the list provided by Justice Department as leaders of the CPP-NPA. Now, they are subjected to this witch-hunt with the threat of arrest and detention.
But the CPP-NPA is not terror group but a revolutionary movement. And just like any other form of resistance from a despotic and tyrannical government such as Duterte’s, militarist rule was never a solution. Crushing its perceived enemy through violence and force will only aggravate the sufferings of the people and more money from the nation’s coffers spilled. The only solution is to address roots of resistance– for national minorities, it is because of national oppression combined with fascism.
The only way is to take away causes of civil war, the poverty, land grabbing especially by big businesses and corporations, government neglect and bureaucracy. To start with, Duterte should lift martial law in Mindanao and pull out its troops in our communities to let Moro and indigenous peoples go back to their homes. Duterte should immediately start working for peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF without preconditions to be able to tackle significant issues such as socio-economic reforms and political reforms.
Only when true change for the people has come, there will only be just peace in Mindanao and in the whole country.