TWO weeks before Congress approved the extension of martial law for another year, this happened in Davao City.
A van carrying priests and Lumad (indigenous people) bound for an Advent mass at Redemptorist Church was stopped at the checkpoint of Task Force Davao in Lasang. It took three hours for the authorities just to verify if they were really attending a mass.
Three hours. How efficient, cried Brother Nosi Balase, who negotiated and pleaded and reasoned this was their activity, and they were missing it. No breakfast, no Mass. Hot sun.
The authorities suspect they were attending a rally, because the van the passengers rented was from a labor center. Police also assumed priests and Lumad can only be found on the streets protesting.
Two weeks ago, the city council passed an ordinance deeming that rallies that block traffic is already illegal and violators will be fined and jailed.
Because this is martial law.
With martial law extended again for another year, one wonders what this really want to achieve.
A month ago, military officials were here in a Mindanao media forum facing top journalists from Mindanao and Manila like Mindanews, PCIJ, National Union of Journalists (NUJP). The report from outgoing AFP Chief of Staff General Carlito Galvez titled “Mindanao Under Martial Law: A Report to the Nation” claims they had “confiscated loose firearms” and accomplished the surrender of over 10,000 members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Mindanao, which they also label as terrorist groups under martial law.
The journalists cast doubt on the figures. If the AFP estimated that the NPA strength is at 3,700 based on information from captured and surrendered NPAs, how did they claim to have 10,000 surrenderers? There have been reports that many farmers, Lumad and civilians were forced to sign “surrender papers.”
The forum went back to Marawi. The officials said even with the “liberation” of Marawi, there are still residues of ISIS-inspired groups or persons in Mindanao. They couldn’t give any figures though, just the same as it was during the Marawi siege.
These were the same questions raised by the minority bloc during the Congress’ joint session. Facts are needed to know what martial law accomplished. Facts to determine why extend it for another year? Who are we going after? Why extra powers? Shouldn’t we go back to normalcy, like Marawi residents going back to rebuild or Lumad communities returning to their ancestral territories?
The data was not enough, some even copy paste from last year, as Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate revealed. Other statistics show a different result. The Commission on Human Rights reported 155 extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders, thousands of Lumad and Moro families displaced, and 50 Lumad schools closed.
Both the critical journalists and the opposition like the Makabayan bloc asked: with sketchy facts and claims, plus reports of abuses, is this not saying martial law failed to achieve peace?
If we look at that checkpoint incident, it is best described by the Mindanews story. An Advent turned agony.