Lifting martial law in Mindanao is no justification for proposed amendments to the anti-terror law - Karapatan

"A new narrative is peddled by top militarists in Duterte's Cabinet. They are now supporting the lifting of martial law in Mindanao, but there's a catch -- it ought to facilitate the passing of the amendments to the anti-terror law or Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007. Having benefited from it after two years, the government is now using the lifting of martial law as a bait to pass a nationwide policy that will practically place the entire country under de facto martial law. We are being deluded that a substitution is inevitable, that one can only be removed if the other is introduced. The proposed amendments to the anti-terror law will endanger everyone and it will no doubt be used to further diminish the democratic space in the country," said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

Following statements by Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary Eduardo Año, the idea of this substitution of martial law in Mindanao by more draconian amendments to the Anti-Terror Law is being floated around.  

Palabay reiterated that "by calling for the lifting of martial law in Mindanao, the likes of Año and Lorenzana have no intention of ending the spate of killings or pursuing justice for the victims of martial law in Mindanao. They just want to trade it with the amendments to the anti-terror law which gives them more opportunities to perpetrate atrocities. We are seeing an influx of new and traditional ways of repression, of policies that are re-invented to spread State terrorism at an unprecedented level."

She said that the proposed amendments to the anti-terror law pose real dangers that will intensify the attacks against people’s rights and civil liberties under martial law: "Under the amended HSA, state forces can legally detain suspected individuals for 14 to 30 days, making them vulnerable to all forms of rights violations. Furthermore, provisions to exact accountability form state forces, such as the PhP500,000 per day penalty to be paid by authorities for individuals later acquitted, have also been surreptitiously removed. This is on top of other provisions which allow the outright denial of due process to individuals and groups in the proscription process."

The Karapatan official further highlighted that the proponents of martial law in Mindanao have yet to be made responsible for the atrocities they perpetrated under its two years of implementation. With Mindanao under martial law, Karapatan has documented 106 victims of political killings in the Southern Philippines. 

"A few were investigated by the Commission of Human Rights and affirmed as violations under martial law, but for all these atrocities, the perpetrators in the military and police remain scot-free. Martial law has permitted the militarization and bombing of communities, the closing of Lumad schools, the non-rehabilitation and non-accountability in Marawi, the continued displacement of the Maranao and Moro peoples, and gross impunity over continued human rights violations. Militarists are now calling to end martial law in Mindanao, but the real intent is to facilitate the passage of a more restrictive and harsher policy," she added.

Palabay cited the recent shooting of three farmers in Caraga as indication of the ongoing atrocities under martial law. Two civilians were killed, while one was injured in separate attacks in the Caraga region in the first week of December.

According to reports, couple and civilians Rolando and Josephine Egtob were shot to death at around 3 pm last Monday, December 2. Meanwhile, farmers’ rights advocate Gaudencio Paclawona, Barangay Kagawad of San Isidro, Tandag City in Surigao del Sul, was on his way home when he was shot by unknown motorcycle-riding gunmen.

The Egtob couple are members of the Unyon sa mga Mag-uuma sa Caraga, a member organization of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, while Paclawona is the chairperson of the local chapter of Anakpawis in Tandag City. Palabay said that the three were known for their staunch advocacy for land rights in the region and that their involvement in legitimate actions for the promotion of human rights could have been one of the reasons why they were killed in a State-perpetrated attack.

“Killings such as these will not stop if we merely replace martial law with a similar policy. The aspirations of the Egtobs and Paclawona are legitimate, stemming from the decades-long injustice faced by farmers. Yet organized activists such as the victims, other human rights defenders, community leaders, and community folk will bear the brunt of the amended HSA if it is passed, with the potential of wreaking more havoc. We thus reiterate that the lifting of martial law should not come with the condition to pass the amended HSA. Let us not fall into their trap of justifying more militarist policies for their own gain. We are reminded that martial law and State terrorism not only breeds a culture of injustice and impunity, but also of non-transparency where corruption is easy and crimes are whitewashed," Palabay explained.

"We also enjoin everyone to join protest actions on December 10, International Human Rights Day, to call for justice for all victims of martial law, and to reiterate the call to withdraw all repressive policies," she ended.