UniversityAmid the crossfire: Martial law in Marawi City
Amid the crossfire: Martial law in Marawi City

As of July 17, CNN Philippines reports that the ongoing crisis in Marawi City has led to approximately 553 deaths, among which are 45 civilians, 97 soldiers and policemen, and 411 militants. According to Military Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, government efforts against the terrorists may continue even after July 24, when President Rodrigo Duterte is set to deliver his State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Padilla continues that there are around 600 buildings that still need to be cleared out and around 80 militants who are yet to be driven out of Marawi City. This is why there is no guarantee that Marawi City will be free from threats before the SONA, and that the city will be liberated by the time the martial law declaration expires on July 22.

Timeline of the crisis

Violence erupted in Marawi City as crossfire between the government forces and militants from the Maute Group, an armed force who has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS), took place on May 23. This happened after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) launched a joint operation for the apprehension of Isnilon Hapilon, an alleged ISIS leader in Southeast Asia. Due to this incident, Duterte declared Proclamation No. 216, which placed the entirety of Mindanao under martial law for 60 days.

An amended resolution stating the Senate’s intent not to revoke the declaration of martial law in Mindanao was adopted on May 30, with the Senate voting 17-5. Among the amendments introduced to Senate Resolution No. 388 included the provision that the support of the Senate to the declaration of martial law is valid until the tension is resolved.

Hence, the Senate will no longer uphold the declaration of Martial Law if the issue no longer exists, even before the 60-day provision of the proclamation. The Senate also made sure that the proclamation did not suspend the operations of the Constitution, which include the respect for human rights and protection against abuses and violations.

Ever since May 23, the clashes between the government and militants have not ceased. However, in line with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr last June 25, an eight-hour ceasefire was agreed upon by both the government forces and the Maute terrorists to respect the Muslims as they celebrate the end of Ramadan. However, immediately after the truce, war broke out again.

According to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on July 4, Hapilon is still hiding in Marawi. He says Hapilon may be hiding in one of the mosques. Government informants have been looking out in the Basilan stronghold of Hapilon for his arrival, but have not sighted him.

Some groups have filed petitions questioning the eligibility of Duterte’s proclamation of Martial Law. The Supreme Court (SC) decided to junk three consolidated petitions on July 4, with the voting 11-3-1. At least eight votes were needed to nullify Proclamation No. 216. The petitioners can opt to file a motion for reconsideration, where the Supreme Court will give its final ruling on the issue.

Marawi-Rachelle Gonzales

However, DLSU Political Science Department Professor Gerardo Eusebio deemed the declaration necessary. “Without martial law, they would have waged their war and even attained their evil objectives with least resistance. Martial law provided the expediency for government to go after the enemies of the state ducking rigid legal requirements that only stymie prosecution,” he explains.

Eusebio emphasizes that there is no alternative solution under the constitution in battling the rebellion. Without the legal lubricant offered by martial law, resolving the rebellion will be difficult.

In relation to this, Eusebio lauds the SC ruling. “Yes, the Supreme Court, despite its occasional political differences with the Duterte Administration, was nobly admirable in its ruling supporting the declaration of martial law. The highest form of statesmanship truly possessed and propelled the justices to take the high road in governance,” he remarks.

The Maute Group is part of the Daulah Islamiyah Fi Ranao (DIFR), an umbrella group for all armed groups who have pledged allegiance to the ISIS. Contrary to popular belief, the government forces have been fighting not only the Maute Group, but the different armed forces under the DIFR as well. It should be noted however, that key positions in the DIFR are controlled by Maute group leaders and members. Marawi City is also the stronghold of the Maute family.

Revisiting Martial Law declarations

It was in the year 1972 when then President Ferdinand Marcos signed Proclamation No. 1081 which placed the Philippines under the first infamous martial law. During his declaration on September 23 of that year, Marcos recounted the rising threats of communism in the country as a stable justification for the implementation of martial law.

However, in the released diary accounts of the former president, he cites that the alleged ambush on then Secretary of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile made the proclamation a necessity. Enrile insisted the ambush occurred, yet the Official Gazette notes that in 1986, Enrile claimed the ambush was staged by Marcos to legitimize the law.

At the imposition of martial law, all powers were transferred to the president. Mass arrests of personalities considered threats to Marcos and citizens who vocally opposed the government system materialized. Orders for mass media to shut down were disseminated.

Martial law era ended when Marcos signed Proclamation No. 2045 on January 17, 1981.

A second declaration of martial law actualized during former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term. Arroyo imposed Proclamation 1959 following the Maguindanao massacre which resulted in the death of 58 people. The recent declaration enforced by Duterte is the third of its kind.

Victims of Marcos’ martial law vividly remember the torture and annihilation they experienced during that era. Mass imprisonments and killings that occurred still cause citizens to fear a future where the country is placed under martial law once again.

Eusebio shares the same thought that people fear martial law because of the negative experiences acquainted with the Marcos regime. However, he emphasizes, “I suppose that by now they finally realized that their fears were unfounded when they found out that martial law was only utilized to thwart terrorism and not to perpetuate the political power of the Digong government.”

Jowie* believes that some view Duterte’s declaration as appropriately justified while others may not share the same sentiment. “We all have a different perspective with regards to this matter and I believe things would not be justified for all. With situations like this, everything is gray,” she says.

On the other hand, Hara* states there is nothing wrong with setting martial law when looking at the bigger picture. “There is an advantage for declaring martial law, which is to be able to avoid the war from spreading to other places, which might lead to larger casualties,” she expresses.

When implemented properly, she believes that fear against the law will reduce. Otherwise, people may start doubting Duterte, which can increase violence in the country.

*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms.