SULU: Amid continued speculation on whether martial law remains an option for the Duterte government in fighting the Abu Sayyaf insurgency, former Sulu Vice Governor Sakur Tan said an iron-hand policy alone will not help solve the kidnappings and criminality problem in the province.
Instead, Tan said peace and development efforts are also needed to address the threats posed by the Abu Sayyaf and other criminal groups.
Tan, who was with Duterte in Davao City recently, said he personally heard how passionate the President was about the changes he wants to see in the country, and how angry he was—as he had always been—about the evils of drugs and criminality. And Duterte is deadly serious about it, Tan observed.
“We in Sulu have to attune ourselves to the dare and challenge of the new President if only to take them as opportunities to mend the new damages done to the image of our province because of incidences of kidnapping, the drug trade and other criminal activities by a few in our midst. No one can block the wave of changes,” Tan said.
“The imposition of martial law by the new leadership is being considered in areas known to be lairs of kidnap-for-ransom and other armed groups. We are of the opinion that we should tread light and with utmost care on the matter of imposing martial law. Even the mere mention of it reawakens the stigma of the bygone era more than four decades ago.
Many us personally experienced that dark episode which was punctuated by abuses of the military authorities, and ignited a devastating and destructive rebellion,” he added.
Tan said that if and when martial law is imposed as the only option left to take, then it must be well-defined and limited only to target areas. The emergency powers, he said, that goes with it should not be intrusive on the civil rights of the people and should maintain, protect and respect the mandate of the duly-elected local government.
“We will not get in the way of the law against those who are proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt whatever their positions in the government or stature in society may be,” Tan, who supported Duterte’s presidency in the elections, said.
He stressed that incidences of criminality cannot find solution in an iron-hand policy alone. The causes of such crimes and the emergence of armed groups trading in what has been termed as a “thriving industry” of kidnapping and drug trade, Tan said, should be seriously looked into.
He said there should be parallel actions by the national government to the military
operations and law enforcement, in the form of social, economic and livelihood programs, and the necessary infrastructures that are basic and prerequisites in nation-building such as roads, schools and hospitals, seaports, post-harvest facilities and so forth.
Tan said on hindsight, that if the huge allocations to the region were prudently and diligently spent for which they were earmarked, development would have served as a formidable deterrent to any form of adventurism from any group.
“We take exception to the tirades of some sectors that the proliferation of crimes, specifically the kidnappings, as indicative of the failure of local governance. The local government is not in the chain of command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police where competency lies in the maintaining peace and order. People should not be barking up the wrong tree and instead let those who are mandated with responsibilities do so with due diligence and they should be held to account for any dereliction of duties and tasks,” Tan declared.
“We have always maintained the position that law enforcement operations, to be more effective, should entail the involvement of the community and local leaders. It is not fair to pass judgment that local leaders and the people in the communities are coddling criminals and in one way or the other alleged to be committing the crimes themselves. We must bear in mind that this outlook is not healthy and may aggravate the situation further and ignite the flame of resistance against the authorities. The peace-loving and the exponents of the rule of law are still in the majority. Where will true justice be if we bundle the good and the bad together and judge the entire province to be in cahoots with criminals? Let the law take its course and do not let the innocent be the collateral damage to over-zealousness or self-agenda of some players in the field,” he added.