Martial law imposed in Mindanao and cultural changes

Martial law imposed in Mindanao and cultural changes

“It is the Spirit Who gives us the ability to know the truth about others. When we look at them from a human point of view, we tend to concentrate on their flaws and shortcomings. When we view them in a spiritual way, we will see what truly lies in their hearts.” – Rev. Jude Winkler

My short visit to the Philippines in May 19 to June 1, 2017 was made memorable by the imposition of martial law in Mindanao on May 23, 2017.

New York Times’ Felipe Villamor reported “President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines placed the southern island of Mindanao under martial law on Tuesday after armed men belonging to two terrorist groups affiliated with the Islamic State killed a police officer and two soldiers, officials said. The military and the police began a joint operation in the hopes of arresting Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf group, who was reportedly in the area and joined by an additional 100 militants belonging to a group called Maute.”

My high school classmates and I travelled mostly in Luzon, quite a distance from Mindanao, 579 miles farther, and even reached the northernmost tip, to view the Bangui windmills. Our travel was smooth and unimpeded. The highways were well paved from the Laoag airport to Bangui windmills.

9 of us were comfortably inside an air-conditioned coaster, neutralizing the humid and warm temperatures, which hovered to the high 90 F.

But, a quick glance at nearby passengers of motorbikes revealed their constant use of handkerchiefs to wipe off sweaty foreheads and the back of their necks with fatigued and weary looks on their faces.

Many tourists were stopping at various vista points, just like we were, taking selfies.

If not, a quick read of their cellphones, and with intermittent wifi, news was limited to a few frames for the day while texts become better sources of news.

I got to read from a shared text to a Catholic lay leader by: “Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said the militants forced their way into a cathedral in Marawi and seized a priest, 10 worshippers and three church workers.”

He said further, “The priest, Father Chito, and the others had no role in the conflict, Villegas said, “He was not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to none,” Villegas said of Fr. Chito. “His capture and that of his companions violates every norm of civilized conflict.”

The New York Post, citing Associated Press of May 24, 2017 reported, “Muslim extremists abducted a Catholic priest and more than a dozen churchgoers while laying siege to a southern Philippine city overnight, burning buildings, ambushing soldiers and hoisting flags of the Islamic State group, officials said Wednesday. President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in the southern third of the nation and warned he would enforce it harshly. The violence erupted Tuesday night after the army raided the hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf commander who is on Washington’s list of most-wanted terrorists with a reward of up to $5 million for his capture. The militants called for reinforcements from an allied group, the Maute, and some 50 gunmen managed to enter the city of Marawi.”

“Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive director of the CBCP Permanent Committee on Public Affairs, said Catholic bishops understand the need for security and order following deadly clashes between government forces and Maute fighters in Marawi and the kidnapping of a priest and several parishioners in the city. The reason behind the declaration is very clear: because of terrorism. The terrorists are there, and then there is a priest who is actually kidnapped,” he said in an ANC interview, published by ABS-CBN News on May 26, 2017, “Terrorism is not limited only in Marawi. So, declaring martial law in the whole of Mindanao is, I think, practical in a sense, just to contain the spread of violence.”

ABS-CBN News continued, “The CBCP official noted, people living in Mindanao have welcomed the martial law declaration in light of concerns that the terrorists could assimilate with locals. However, Secillano also acknowledged concerns that the declaration of martial law could lead to human rights violations.” The primary concerns, of course, are the violations that may go along with it. There is always that thought that maybe because of martial law, then violations against human rights are going to happen and civil liberties are going to be abused. These are valid concerns, I understand their sentiments and because we do not want the people to suffer again,” he said, “We should not forget the past. We should learn from the past.”

A quick survey of the events amongst relatives who live in Manila, showed their full support of Pres. Duterte’s actions. They see Davao as a concrete example of the Philippines they would like to have. They rely on their own local experiences of visiting Davao, moving freely at night, riding jeepneys, unencumbered by street criminals. They also point out to the relatively clean streets and gutters of Davao.

In our travels to Manila, Quezon City, Mandaluyong, Makati and GBC, Ilocos Norte and Vigan, Ilocos Sur, we noticed clean streets, clean sidewalks and how even the streets of Makati had their night food truck festivals replete with the modern sounds of music, with families in attendance.

The trek to the airport was smooth and uneventful, made possible by the completed skyways done by Pres. Noynoy Aquino’s partnership with San Miguel Corporation.

When I got to the airport, I observed the government airport employees to be alert, mindful of giving effective customer service and operating with teamwork. I regret not meeting my cousin who was in a meeting, to give him my personal thanks for the changes, as he now heads the international airport’s operations.

I am more optimistic now as the children of the elites who studied abroad are more visible in making changes in the Philippines. I just hope they too can make lasting changes in government systems to have a country, more respectable in all its operations, for all of us to experience.

Still, a part of me wonders if all these observed changes can be sustained for generations to come to benefit the citizens of the Philippines, their children and grandchildren?

Would martial law bring law and order in Marawi and Mindanao for the sixty days it was imposed or will it bring the specter of the dark years of our democracy under Ferdinand Marcos?

After all, Ted Aljibe of Agence France of May 25, 2017 reported, “Forces had initially been confident they would capture or kill the elusive Hapilon, regarded by the United States as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. The US government offers a $5-million bounty for his capture. The military had for months been conducting offensives against Islamist militants in nearby mountains, and came close to killing Hapilon during a bombing raid in January. After receiving intelligence that he had come to Marawi for medical treatment and was hiding in a house, a small group of security forces conducted what two military spokespeople described as a “surgical operation” to get him. “We had been pummeling them in the mountains, but were caught unaware when they entered Marawi,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana conceded in a briefing to reporters on Wednesday.”

Next series: Feature articles on places we saw and folks we met.

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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.

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