In the aftermath of heady arguments presented by lawmakers in the joint session of Congress on Saturday for and against the extension of martial law in Mindanao, an overwhelming vote upheld the need to extend military rule in the southern Philippines until the end of the year.
The goal, President Rodrigo Duterte said in his letter of request to the Senate and the House of Representatives to extend the validity of Proclamation 216, is to conquer the combined forces of terrorists in the country and quash their attempts to establish an Islamic State caliphate in Marawi City.
Proclamation 216 placed Mindanao under martial law and suspended the writ of habeas corpus in the region on May 23, 2017. It lost its 60-day, constitutionally mandated validity at 10 p.m. on Saturday, May 22.
But who is afraid of martial law? Intrinsically, it’s just a piece of paper signed by the President putting a particular place under military rule. Opposition to martial rule is basically fueled by fear of possible atrocities by government troops, abuse of power with a possible expansion of its coverage to the entire archipelago, and the view that the IS threat to take over Marawi has now faded.
That seems to be a myopic view of the real danger posed by terrorism against this country. The future is at stake, and it is much more dangerous than the present, if we let our guards down. The threat of terrorism in Marawi – let alone Mindanao – like cancer, may have receded in the midst of relentless air attacks by government forces, but to let go of vigilance on the part of our troops will not only give the terrorists a chance to gather new strength and return with even more fiery virulence.
Now that legislators have decided to extend martial law in Mindanao until December 31 this year in an overwhelming vote, what government fighters on the field must watch out for is the temptation to ease their vigilance against the enemy or yield to the sometimes intoxicating power of the gun and commit atrocities.
President Rodrigo Duterte, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año, and the senators and congressmen who voted unanimously to grant the President’s request must never forget the argument that extending Proclamation 216 is mainly for the purpose of defeating the terrorist forces and stopping the ideology of violent extremism from spreading across the country and to the neighboring states in Southeast Asia.
Supplemental to annihilating the extremists is the rehabilitation of Marawi City and the forward-looking vision of lasting peace in Mindanao, with no hidden personal and political agenda that would overturn the decision made in good faith by Congress and hurt the will of the majority, which is none other than the Filipino people.
Reconstructing war-torn Marawi is in itself a gargantuan task that must be done as soon as possible, as soon as the last vestiges of extremist forces in the city have been eliminated.
The innocent Maranaons have suffered long enough over the last 60 days of fighting in Marawi. Letting them live back in peace in the city, in the province of Lanao del Sur, and in the whole of Mindanao will entail the restoration of their homes and livelihoods, which would cost the province and the government tremendous resources. But what would be costlier than the lives of our soldiers who died in battle, the innocent civilians and other collateral damage caught in the deadly crossfire between the warring forces?
No way out of the war in Marawi will be cheap and easy. The inherent evils of war have become a reality for this nation, especially in the south. We now live in a troubled world where cross-border terrorism is a clear and present danger. Educating our young Filipinos about the evils of sowing terror instead of peace, death instead of life, is well and good for their future. But for now, firepower unleashed by the enemy will only be quashed by far superior firepower and strategy by this sovereign state.