Rights violations, dire state of Marawi evacuees, plunder of resources and corrupt dealings mark 2nd year ML in Mindanao

“May 23, 2019 marks the 2nd year of martial law implementation in Mindanao. The Duterte government has perpetrated several myths about military rule and has intentionally propagated fear to justify the extension and passage of repressive policies. 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, and corruption and abuses among the ranks of security forces,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.

The whole of Mindanao was placed under martial law on May 23, 2017, following the Marawi siege. After the military declared “victory” in Marawi, the Duterte government refused to lift martial law and has even extended it twice even without actual rebellion or substantial grounds as mandated by the Philippine Constitution. Military rule in the Southern Philippines will remain in effect until December 2019. From May 23, 2017 to May 23, 2019, Karapatan has documented 93 cases of extrajudicial killings, 136 cases of frustrated extrajudicial killings, 35 cases of torture, 1,450 cases of illegal arrests, 28,813 cases of threat, harassment and intimidation, and 423,538 victims of forced evacuation in Mindanao.

Karapatan has raised various irregularities investigated by journalists and other groups in the two years of martial law’s implementation. This includes the AFP and PNP’s possible connivance and use of government resources to aid actors that they are allegedly trying to pursue. In 2017, a Davao police official was caught after providing supplies and aiding suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Bohol. In December 2018, PhP 1.2 million worth of firearms and ammunitions used by the Maute Group and ASG were traced to the AFP, after investigations by the police. The recovered weapons were marked with “AFP,” “Government Property,” and “Philippine Army.” Investigations, which should include conclusive reports about possible military involvement in the Marawi siege, as opposed to the believed AFP intelligence failure which led to the disaster, have not been seriously pursued.

“The people are deprived of the truth and are instead being fed with more schemes to scare them into submission. Various incidents under martial law are either swept under the rug or blatantly whitewashed,” explained Palabay, citing the Jolo bombings, the Patikul massacre, the Lake Sebu massacre, among others. 

In January 27, a bombing occurred at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral, followed by another blast at a mosque in Brgy. Talon-Talon, Zamboanga City. The military and police have put forward a suspect, a certain Mukammar Pae. However, Karapatan highlighted that Pae’s lawyer insisted that his client was a tree cutter who wanted to clear his name by going to the police. Instead of clearance, he was tortured to admit to the crime. “At best, this is indicative of the PNP’s ineptitude; at worst, it is a calculated cover-up to protect the real masterminds behind the attacks. Despite calls from Pae’s lawyer and other groups, no investigation has been done,” Palabay said. 

Other violations such as the Patikul massacre in September 2018, whose victims were civilians harvesting mangosteen fruits, were simply dismissed by the military as an encounter with the ASG. Similarly, the massacre of 8 indigenous peoples in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato was also swept aside by the military after claiming again that it was an “encounter,” but this time, with the New People’s Army. “In the military’s books, “encounter” is their equivalent of “nanlaban”,” Palabay noted. 

The rights group also reiterated that after two years, the residents of Marawi have yet to return to their homes. “Dispelling the myths being peddled by the government on the implementation of martial law would reveal an ineffective approach in addressing the root causes of the social problems which have fueled armed conflicts in Mindanao. Military rule has aggravated the problem and has resulted to military abuse and blatant cover-ups,” she emphasized. 

“The result of the 2019 mid-term elections amid suspected fraud and documented irregularities has implications on the political and economic situation in the country. Human rights violations are expected to progressively worsen as the legislative and the judiciary has been extensively compromised to favor the militarist and anti-people agenda of the Duterte government. This situation brings us closer to a nationwide martial law at the behest of a bloodthirsty Commander-in-Chief. Yet, we continue to resist dictatorship in its new and emerging forms,” concluded Palabay.