MORE than 300 members of militant groups from Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon gathered at the Magsaysay Park in Divisoria Plaza, Cagayan de Oro Thursday, September 21, to mark the 45th year of the declaration of martial law by former President Ferdinand Marcos on September 21, 1972.
The protesters were a mix of millennials or today’s youth and members of the older generation who converged at the Magsaysay Park as part of a larger nationwide mass action to remember and remind the public of atrocities committed during the Marcos era and to denounce the abuses of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.
Wildon Barros, secretary-general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Northern Mindanao said National Day of Protest on Thursday was an attempt by Duterte to take the steam out of rising public discontent in the wake of the President’s anti-poor war on drugs and martial law in Mindanao.
"Kining national day of protest, pagtabon lang kini ni Digong sa unsa ang actual nga gakahitabo sa katilingban.Gusto niya nga ang protesta mag-sentro ra sa martial law ni Marcos pero sayop siya kay apil kining martial law karon sa Mindanao among gikondena (This National Day of Protest is Digong’s way of covering up on what’s really happening around us. He wants the protest to focus on martial law of Marcos but he’s wrong since we are condemning the martial law in Mindanao)," Barros said.
Ivy Salamanca, 18, an out-of-school youth from Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental, said she had learned that the young people, especially the women, during the Marcos-era martial law had suffered from rape, detention and torture.
“I am also a young person and I could not imagine the horrors that the youth at that time experienced,” Salamanca said.
Nizza Dekit, 19, a civil engineering student at Xavier University, said she was told that during the martial law, school publications were closed and the rights of the students to express themselves were suppressed.
Nowadays, Dekit said, the detrimental effects of martial law are also felt, although its impact is more transparent in the countryside than in urban areas. In rural communities, there were also reports of human rights violations being perpetrated by state agents to civilians.
“Marco” (not his real name), 69, a port worker, recalled how he was arrested by authorities and was accused of being a member or a rebellious group. He said he was imprisoned and abused during his detention.
He also renounced the Duterte government’s war on drugs as the era of truth-twisting.
“Nowadays lies are spread and the truth is suppressed. People who had not been tried before the court of law are getting killed, and these victims were accused of being drug addicts or pushers,” Marco said.
“If the police are really sincere in going after the killers, why can’t they arrest the shooters?” he added.
Duterte put the entire Mindanao under the state of martial law following the conflict between the extremists and military forces in Marawi on May 23.
Aside from that, the indigenous peoples in Bukidnon are being displaced due to the violence being perpetrated by paramilitary groups in their communities, he said.
Cases of extrajudicial killings have also been reported in Bukidnon, he added.
In a separate interview, Bishop Felixberto Calang, of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and co-convenor of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, has doubted the authenticity of the basis for proclaiming martial law in Mindanao as it might be an excuse for the continued presence of American troops in the country.
“There is credence to reports that the (United States) is behind the Marawi siege to justify further US military intervention in the country. Martial Law is therefore effective in creating a miniature Syria situation,” Calang said.
The bishop said that martial law is being used as a threat to be imposed nationwide.
“We should see this in perspective. With a rubber stamp congress, the possible impeachment of Chief Justice Sereno, and the daily occurrence of extrajudicial killings of drug offenders and activists, (military rule) should now be seen as an instrument of suppression and not as a tool for peace and security. We have all the signs of Marcosian Martial Law in our midst,” he added.
For his part, Robertino Pizzaro, president of the Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., said Duterte’s martial law has worked in that it quelled the threats of terrorists and Communist insurgents.
“Martial law is effective because we need to take out this terrorism,” Pizzaro said, adding that terrorism is a big obstacle to the plans and programs of Duterte.
“It was good move. I don’t think any other President could handle it better than him,” he added.
Published in the SunStar Cagayan de Oro newspaper on September 22, 2017.