Martial Law and military offensives in Mindanao result in grave humanitarian crisis

"The military operation conducted in Marawi and Maguindanao openly announced by government to be an operation against the small Maute and other terrorist groups that they claimed to be affiliated with the ISIS, can be characterized as an overkill" -  from the report of the National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission

Martial Law and the relentless military offensives against the ISIS-inspired Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups have resulted in a grave humanitarian crisis in the southern region of Mindanao in the Philippines.

This is the assertion of the National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission that went to Marawi City and other parts of Mindanao last June 14-16 to see the situation of the residents who have been displaced by the ongoing clashes between the government forces and said terrorist groups and carry out fact-finding and relief missions.

Marawi City is the site of the ongoing clashes between government forces and said terrorist groups that led President Duterte to declare martial law not only in Marawi but in the entire Mindanao.

Martial law intensifies impunity

The mission, which included TWHA partners Karapatan and Gabriela and Kiyo’s partners Salinlahi and Children Rehabilitation Center, also aimed at documenting growing numbers of cases of human rights violations attributed to “martial law’s further heightening of military impunity towards human rights as it has given them additional powers such as warrantless searches, arrests profiling and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.”

The mission reported a total of 325,294 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mindanao, a big portion of which is in home-based and evacuation centers.

The massive evacuation, the report said, was primarily caused by indiscriminate aerial strikes and artillery bombardments.

... the apparent lack of decisive resolution to end the Marawi siege, the AFP’s (Armed Forces of the Philippines) unbending tack of using airstrikes despite massive destruction of properties and government troops casualties, and the continuing use of aerial bombardment as a counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency method has steadily increased the total number of IDPs. We foresee this displacement to rise and spread to other areas as the AFP resorts to aerial bombardments which do not discriminate civilians, adversely affects farms and livelihood, and by evidence of experience domestically and internationally, has not proven effective in decimating terrorist armed groups," the report said.

During a press conference in Manila, Karapatan reported a total of nine extrajudicial killings due to indiscriminate bombings and military operations. The report was based on testimonial evidence and statements gathered by members of the mission from those who witnessed the killings. Other human rights violations include forcible evacuation, destruction, and divestment of properties, threats, harassments, and intimidation.

Mission denied entry by military

The mission was able to provide medical services, psycho-social intervention, and relief goods to more than a thousand families. Unfortunately, the military refused to allow the mission to enter Marawi City proper and proceed to the Provincial Capitol to bring relief goods to thousands of evacuees staying inside the building claiming that the evacuees do not need relief operations there.

Members of the mission observed that common chronic diseases such as upper respiratory tract infection, skin diseases, pulmonary tuberculosis, peptic ulcer, hypertension, pneumonia, among others, already prevalent even before the evacuation have been further aggravated by the prolonged crisis.

Evacuees showing signs of post-traumatic stress

A cause for concern, the report noted, is the mental health of the IDPs as they observed many them, especially children and women, exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress and anxieties.

The stress is especially evident among children who expressed fear as they witnessed heavily armed men, who they referred as ‘ISIS' occupying their community and engaging in the firefight with military elements. They witnessed helicopters hovering above Marawi City and dropping bombs on their communities," the report said.

The members of the mission also noted that the rape joke uttered by Duterte among the soldiers fighting the terrorist groups - that they can rape up to three women and he will take responsibility for them - had caused terrible fear among women forcing them to seek refuge in the evacuation centers.

A member of the mission told of a woman who recounted how a soldier maliciously used the rape joke to threaten her. “If you are good, we are also good, if you do bad, we’ll rape you,” he quoted the woman recalling what the soldier had said to her.

There was also a mother who obliged her three daughters to evacuate at once after she heard about Duterte’s rape joke.

Civilians are the most affected

Ustadz Alimondas Laut, an evacuee who went with the mission to Manila to personally air the sentiment of the Marawi people against martial law and the destruction of their city, pleaded in desperation, “President Duterte, please stop bombing Marawi, it is the civilians and the children who suffer the most, not the terrorists.”

Below are the findings of the mission:

  1. Martial Law and the AFP’s indiscriminate aerial bombardment approach have spawned massive human rights violation.

  2. Martial Law’s adverse and grave impact on the human rights and welfare of civilians demonstrates its lack of effectivity and casts doubt on in its appropriateness as a response to a small, armed, and foreign-affiliated terrorist group.

  3. Intensified indiscriminate aerial bombardment is the primary character of Martial Law.

  4. Martial law demonstrates an anti-people and anti-insurgency motive, with the Moro (Muslim in Mindanao) and Lumad (indigenous people in Mindanao) civilians and communities as its target.

  5. Victims call to lift Martial Law, end aerial to aerial bombardment and stop to militarization.

  6. Alarming and condemnable criminal and terrorist acts of local terrorist groups which are reportedly funded, directed, and controlled by ISIS and foreign terrorist organizations.
  7. Glaring involvement and violation of Philippine sovereignty by United States involvement and participation in the Marawi siege and possibly in other counter-terror campaigns in Mindanao