MINDANAO has always been the “Land of Promise” for the country. The potential of the island is so huge that in order to harvest it, the peace and order problem of centuries need to be attended to immediately. Historically, much of the expenditures of the military take into account the “problem in south Mindanao.” The so-called peace dividend has not been sustainable due to the play of dealing with one group and after signing a peace agreement, another group springs to life to hostage the process.
Mindanao is the Philippines’ second largest island with a land area of 104,630 square kilometers. Mindanao comprises the Mindanao mainland, the Sulu Archipelago to the southwest, consisting of the major islands of Basilian, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi plus the outlying islands of Camiguin, Dinagat, Siargao, and Samal. It is the 8th most populous island in the world. It is surrounded by four seas: the Sulu Sea to the west, the Philippine Sea to the east, the Celebes Sea to the south and the Mindanao Sea to the north.
Based on the 2015 first-semester poverty incidence report of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), eight of the 10 poorest provinces are found in Mindanao. The 10 poorest provinces are Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Sarangani, Bukidnon, Siquijor, Northern Samar, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga del Norte and Agusan del Sur.
On September 4, 2016, three months after his assumption to office, President Duterte signed Proclamation 55, declaring a state of national emergency on account of “lawless violence in Mindanao.” As a Mindanaoan and mayor for three decades of Davao City, PRRD knew the island like the back of his hand. The proclamation laid down the historical reasons (the long and complex history of lawless violence perpetrated by private armies and local warlords, bandits and criminal syndicates, terrorist groups, and religious extremists); recent events (the spate of violent and lawless acts across many parts of Mindanao, including abductions, hostage-takings and murder of innocent civilians, bombing of power transmission facilities, highway robberies and extortions, attacks on military outposts, assassination of media people and mass jailbreaks); and actual events (death of 15 soldiers in a skirmish with the Abu Sayyaf Group in Patikul, Sulu, on August 29. 2016 and on the night of September 2, 2016; at least 14 people were killed and 67 others were seriously injured in a bombing incident in a night market in Davao City, perpetrated by still unidentified lawless elements) and why it necessitated the issuance of the proclamation. Interestingly, the “proclamation of a state of national emergency on account of lawless violence remained in force and effect until the very day PRRD issued Proclamation 216.
Proclamation 216 was issued in May 23, 2017 while PRRD was in Russia for an official visit. From a simple act of serving a warrant of arrest on Isnilon Hapilon of the ASG, all hell broke loose and now we have total anarchy affecting all, especially Marawi City. Declaring a state of martial law and suspending the writ of habeas corpus for 60 days in the whole of Mindanao may be the solution to attain peace in the area. It will be very hard and as PRRD said, “very harsh,” but if we want to finally deal with the age-old social justice issues, we need to have order in the island. Dealing with the lawless elements is easier than dealing with private armies of local politicians. Mix it with drugs and illegal firearms trade, and we have a combustible scenario in Mindanao. But it will also take a paradigm shift to wean over the young Mindanaoans from the victim mentality that has been plaguing the discourse for some time. Such mentality primes itself to radicalism and extremism.
Mindanao under martial law today is far different from the martial law of the 1970s and that is because of the constitutional safeguards we have now. Martial law today is different because of the breed of soldiers we have now. They may not be perfect but they are conscious of their role and of military history in relation to martial law. The test of leadership is to ensure that there are no excesses and the oft-repeated adage of upholding the rule of law. Declaring martial law is a power granted by the Constitution to the President. Exercise it wisely and prudently and we can say that, yes, it has served its purpose.
If indeed there are organizations and individuals who goaded, financed and supported such lawless groups to create chaos, the intelligence community should be able to identify and get them. They should be held liable, regardless of political and economic position. To be a patriot does not mean to sanction or plan the destruction of one’s country. PRRD has been tested since Day 1 of his term. About time we get these people and bring them into the fold of the law. An ouster or a withdrawal of support will not happen because people can see though all the movements being made. The same is true with some government functionaries running against time to earn a quick buck.
During the time of Ferdinand Marcos, “martial law rested on the sanction of force and not on the sanction of law”. Martial law today is allowed but delimited by our Constitution. Declaring martial law for the whole of Mindanao is a hard act to do, most especially when lawlessness has been contained and a new Mindanao needs to be built.