Progressive groups oppose Duterte’s martial law

Progressive groups in the Philippines are calling human rights advocates all over the world to extend solidarity to the people of Mindanao and the whole country by calling on President Duterte to revoke his martial law declaration.

Progressive groups have vowed to stage huge and persistent protests to oppose President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in the Philippine southern region of Mindanao and his subsequent threat to impose it in the whole country.

They are also calling human rights advocates all over the world to extend solidarity to the people of Mindanao and the Philippines by calling on President Duterte to revoke the martial law declaration, to respect human rights, and to stop attacks against people through political repression and the war on drugs.

Last May 26, various groups including TWHA partners (Gabriela, Council for Health and Development, Karapatan and Climate Change Network for Community-based initiatives) as well as those of consortium partners Solidagro and Kiyo, took to the streets to express solidarity with the people of Marawi City in Mindanao affected by the armed fighting and to call on the people to denounce and resist the impending military rule in the country.

Martial Law will worsen culture of impunity

The progressive social movement in the Philippines has asserted that amidst the rising culture of impunity due to Duterte’s war on drugs and counter-insurgency program, martial law will only aggravate the worsening human rights condition in the country.


Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao last May 24 was prompted by the outbreak of violence due to clashes between the government forces and militant groups belonging to the Abu Sayyaf and Maute group in Marawi, a city with a predominantly Muslim population. Both groups, military officials said, have a relationship with ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and have been involved in various terroristic activities in the recent past.

In defending his declaration of martial law, Duterte said he wanted to combat the rise of ISIS in the Philippines. But his remark was contradicted by statements coming from military officials themselves who said that ISIS has no known presence in the Philippines.

Martial law entails the suspension of habeas corpus which allows the military to arrest without warrant any individuals they suspect to be members of the terrorist groups.

The Constitution of the Philippines requires Congress to approve Duterte’s martial law imposition and limits its period to 60 days. The Supreme Court has also the power to rule on its legality. But Duterte, in his recent statement, had threatened to shrug off said mechanism:

"Until the police and the armed forces say the Philippines is safe, this martial law will continue. I will not listen to others. The Supreme Court, Congress, they are not here,"

In a statement, Gabriela denounced the declaration of martial law and said that "women and children suffered the most from the Maute group's terror attacks and will be the first to demand a peaceful conflict resolution. However, putting the entire area of Mindanao under military rule is an overreaction to the events in Marawi, giving the security forces to violate the rights of citizens to exercise their political and economic rights.”

Public vigilance against rights abuses

Karapatan, on the other hand, called on the people to be vigilant as it issued bust cards to increase public awareness on their human rights and against abusive government forces. It is also set to lead a National Fact Finding and Solidarity Mission to Marawi City next week to gather facts on the human rights violations committed by government forces in the course of the implementation of Martial Law in Mindanao and provide relief to affected residents who evacuated due to the conflict.


Duterte warned that martial law he declared would be similar to the one declared by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1972. (according to Amnesty International, about 70,000 people were imprisoned while 34,000 were tortured, and 3,240 were killed during Marcos regime’s Martial Law from 1972 to 1981). In Duterte’s own words:

"To those who have experienced martial law, it would not be any different from what President Marcos did," "I'll be harsh."

True to his words, human rights violations due to military atrocities have escalated a few days after the declaration of martial law.

Reports of violations

Karapatan has already recorded several cases of human rights violations committed by government forces against civilians. In its latest report, it said that the military reportedly carried out aerial bombings in several communities killing one resident and resulting in the forced evacuation of more than 1,000 residents. The communities, however, are located in the provinces of North Cotabato and Bukidnon, more than 100 kilometers away from Marawi City where the clashes are presently happening.


Government soldiers have also used martial law to quell legitimate dissent and struggles. In Davao region (more than 300 km from Marawi City), two members of a farm workers union were illegally arrested by soldiers while a farmer remains missing. In Compostella Valley (also more than 300 km from Marawi City), government soldiers forcibly barged in the picket line of striking workers of a foreign-owned banana packing plant and threatened to kill them if they would not end their strike against the company’s practice of contractualization and union busting.


Rape joke

Speaking to soldiers engaged in the fight against the terrorist groups, the President repeatedly reassured them that he will take responsibility for any abuses they will commit under martial law, and even joked that the soldiers could rape up to three women and he would personally claim responsibility for them.


Critics said that Duterte’s pronouncements such as the said rape joke have emboldened many state agents to violate the rights of the people and has made the culture of impunity thrive in the country.


Rape is not a joke. Martial law and the heightened vulnerability to military abuse that it brings to women and children are not a joke either," said Gabriela in a statement.


Peace talks disrupted

The declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao has also disrupted the ongoing peace talks between the government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front after the former withdrew from participating in the fifth round of talks being held in the Netherlands.


The government cited as its reason for withdrawal the order of Communist Party of the Philippines to its armed wing, the New People’s Army, to intensify attacks on government forces to counter the declaration of Martial Law. The order came on the heels of the national defense secretary’s own order to government soldiers to use martial law to intensify the counterinsurgency operations in Mindanao against the revolutionary movement.


The two parties are currently negotiating the comprehensive agreements on social and economic reforms aimed at solving the fundamental problems of exploitation, underdevelopment and widespread poverty to put an end to the ongoing armed conflict in Mindanao and the rest of the country that is rooted in the historic exploitation and oppression of the poor and marginalized.


Even before the declaration of Martial Law, many peasant and indigenous peoples' communities in Mindanao have already been enduring heavy militarization and rights violations due to their continued resistance against corporate mining, land grabbing, and destructive projects.


With the declaration of Martial Law, the progressive social movement fears for the safety of those who are struggling to defend their lands, such as the Lumad (indigenous peoples in Mindanao) who have not given up their struggles despite the continuing violence inflicted on them by government forces.