‘I’m from Marawi City, please ask us, what do we feel?’
Stories describing the ugly side of martial law in Mindanao had their share of the spotlight at a rare joint session of Congress on Saturday, though they barely had any effect on the session’s expected outcome — the extension of martial law until the end of the year.
The most stirring plea against extending martial law was delivered by Samira Gutoc, Bangsamoro civil society leader, who narrated stories about the alleged harm that martial law brought the people of Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city that came under attack from a homegrown terror group that had sworn allegiance to Islamic State (IS).
“I’m from Marawi City,” Gutoc said at the opening of her plea to members of the House of Representatives and Senate assembled jointly at the House session hall. “Please ask us, what do we feel?” she said.
In her plea, Gutoc listed what she said were stories about abuses and people’s sufferings that martial law had brought Marawi.
One was that of a 20-year-old mentally ill man who had been “psychologically interrogated” after he was accused of membership in Maute, a group of terrorists who had tried to establish an IS caliphate in Marawi.
‘Dig your graves’
She told of the story of young men rescued by soldiers but were forced to walk as they wore blindfolds. A voice which Gutoc said was presumed to be that of someone in authority had told the men: “Dig your own graves.”
Gutoc also told of bodies of dead Muslims not being buried for nearly two months. Islam requires the burial of the dead within 24 hours.
“What if it was your grandfather who wasn’t buried? In Islam, even for a day, it’s forbidden not to be buried,” she said.
She said prolonging martial law would also mean prolonging the indignities that women suffer in evacuation centers.
“Women are forced to strip down in evacuation centers even when we are not supposed to bare our bodies,” she said.
However, Gen. Eduardo Año, Armed Forces chief of staff, said stories about abuses by the military as a result of martial law were mainly baseless.
‘Disabusing our minds’
Speaking also at the joint session, Año said the presence of regional offices of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Mindanao should be assurance enough that abuses would be checked.
“Let us disabuse our minds of the notion that martial law will result in human rights violations,” Ano said, responding to questions from Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr.
Most reports about abuses, Año said, were “speculation,” adding that the Armed Forces was ready to investigate and deal with complaints against abusive soldiers.
While Gutoc sought to appeal to emotion in her plea against the extension of martial law, human rights group Karapatan used numbers to press for opposition against prolonging martial law.
From May 23, the first day of martial law, to July 16, the group said, it had documented 10 cases of extrajudicial killings in Marawi, 335 warrantless arrests and more than 400,000 people displaced.
Called by Sen. Grace Poe to also speak at the joint session, CHR chair Jose Luis Martin Gascon said CHR regional offices in Mindanao, while having no formal complaint against martial law abuses, were validating reports from nongovernment organizations.
Año said the Armed Forces was investigating these reports.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, however, stuck to the official government line that no human rights were violated during martial law in Mindanao.
Unique martial law
“This is the only martial law where human rights [are] clearly being followed,” he said.
Gascon said the CHR had been “receiving more and more complaints” of abuses that the commission was verifying.
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said the rights violations that the group had documented in Marawi were “direct consequences” of martial law, calling efforts to extend it as “sinister.”
She said “militarist solutions to terrorism or rebellion are not solutions at all.” “These only magnify the problems,” she added. —With Jocelyn Uy, Jaymtee T. Gamil, and Vince F. Nonato
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