• Palace to probe alleged abuses

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    MALACAÑANG on Saturday said the government would look into the reported human rights abuses in Mindanao, a month after President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire island under martial law in response to the siege of Marawi City by Islamic State-linked armed groups.

    In a statement, Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Duterte admnistration would not allow members of the police and the military to violate human rights and the Constitution.

    “The President, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, and the Department of National Defense secretary who is the Mindanao administrator for Martial Law do not encourage or tolerate abuses by the military or the police in Mindanao or elsewhere,” Abella said.

    “We will investigate and, if evidence warrants, prosecute and punish all those who committed abuses, especially sexual violence against women,” he added.

    Abella made the statement after the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) – Lanao del Sur Chapter denounced the alleged illegal search and seizure operations by security forces in Marawi City.

    In a statement dated June 9, the lawyers’ group in Lanao del Sur province said that while it supports Duterte’s imposition of martial rule in Mindanao, it won’t turn a blind eye on the human rights violations committed during its implementation.

    “The IBP-Lanao del Sur Chapter hereby expresses its severe outrage and condemnation over illegal searches and seizure in Marawi City by military men, police and other law enforcement agencies which results in rampant loss and deprivation of properties and possessions of innocent civilians,” the lawyers’ group said.

    Abella however said the Commission on Human Rights had not received information on rights abuses in Mindanao, a month after the declaration of martial law.

    “We do note the recent report of the Commission on Human Rights that found no evidence of abuse of martial law in Mindanao. Should there be, proper complaints must be promptly filed,” Abella said.

    “In the meantime, unless based on fact and evidence, we ask critics and advocates to be more considerate in their judgment of the efforts and context of our soldiers’ challenges, and be more supportive of their efforts to protect the Filipino Way of Life,” he added.

    Toll on economy

    The devastation wrought in Marawi City by the siege of the Maute group and the conflict’s accompanying toll on tourism may lead to bigger deficit government spending that will adversely affect the economy, an economist said.

    Economist Alvin Ang shared his observations on Thursday during a briefing titled “Change Has Come” at the Ateneo Professional Schools in Makati City.

    President Rodrigio Duterte earlier said he would prioritize the rebuilding of Marawi City, setting aside P20 billion in standby funds. The disaster budget of the Department of Public Works and Highway, meanwhile, would be increased by up to P1 billion, said Public Works Secretary Mark Villar.

    The conflict, moreover, pushed countries such as the United Kingdom and United States to warn their citizens against traveling to parts of Mindanao.

    Thus, Ang said, it was important to “end the Marawi crisis soon.”

    A group of travel agencies also called on the government to “contain” the conflict in Marawi City and work on lifting martial law in Mindanao.

    The Philippine Travel Agencies Association earlier said that the mere mention of “martial law” could scare tourists.

    Ang noted that conflict areas, particularly in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, posed the lowest economic growth indicators in the country.

    Ang, meanwhile, lamented that the country has lagged behind its Southeast Asian neighbors in terms of its international financial position. This is because the country is the least open to trade, he said.

    While the manufacturing sector is growing, the scope of its growth is limited to five regions, including Calabarzon and the Metro Manila. Thus, growth in the country is “imbalanced,” he said.

    He suggested that the country’s transport system be improved to support the future growth of investments.

    WITH KIMBERLY LIBRERO

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