THERE were fears when martial law in Mindanao was declared on May 23, 2017. Many feared that this may usher the country towards another dark history reminiscent of the late president Ferdinand Marcos' martial law.
We take a closer look at Davao City and Davao Region to see how it has been coping with martial law in the last two years.
On May 23, 2017, fighting erupted between government forces and members of Maute terror group in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
In the evening of the same day, President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who was then on a mission trip in Russia, declared Martial Law in Mindanao through former Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella.
“The President has called me and asked me to announce that as of 10 p.m., Manila time, he has already declared martial law to the entire island of Mindanao,” Abella said in a press conference in Moscow, Russia.
Article 7, Section 18 of the Constitution states that "in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, the President may, for a period not exceeding 60 days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law."
Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend the proclamation for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion persists and public safety requires it.
Since it was implemented in 2017, martial law has been extended in Mindanao three times. The first extension was on July 23 when it was extended to December 2017. Then on December 13, 2017, martial law in Mindanao was extended for another year to December 2018.
The third extension was on December 12, 2018 when the Senate and House of Representatives approved a resolution extending for the third time the martial law in Mindanao until December 31, 2019.
Businesses bouncing back
The greatest impact was felt by, among others, businesses in the tourism sector.
In a report, City Tourism Operations Office (CTOO) head Generose Tecson noted that tourist arrivals in June 2017 went down by 19 percent to only 123,343 from 152,678 during the same period of 2016. She also said about P20 million in tourism receipts were lost during the first three days of Martial Law declaration.
However, towards the end of 2017, tourism in the city bounced back. Tourist arrivals in the city in 2017 hit 2.0 million compared to the 1.7 million in 2016. In 2018, tourist arrivals reached around 2.3 million.
The biggest increase in tourist arrivals in 2017 was noted during the Kadayawan Festival in August, when visitors reached 185,660 compared to the August 2016 arrivals of 171,851.
Foreign tourist arrivals also increased to 126,209 in 2017 from only 124,863 in 2016.
"Of course there would be a minority who feels against martial law but the positive results far outweigh the negative," Tecson said.
The National Economic and Development Authority regional office (Neda 11) also noted that the state of martial law has somehow benefited the region's economy.
Neda-Davao Director Maria Lourdes Lim said there has been a notable deceleration in armed encounters in the region since the declaration, which may lure more investors to Davao.
“By these indicators alone, we could say that martial law has a positive effect on our overall business environment in the region, attracting more tourists. By the way, there is a notable increase of tourists in the region in 2018 also through the effort of our local government units (LGUs) to attract more tourists in festivals and meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (Mice) [activities],” Lim said.
Minda public relations officer Adrian Tamayo said martial law somehow serves as a "security blanket" for businesses coming and operating here.
"Due to Martial Law, peace and order is ensured. The fluid nature of order many years back is being contained by the security blanket that is due to martial law," Tamayo said.
"Likewise, coordination among security and public safety agencies becomes easy and simple which was able to impress that the government can protect the people," he said.
"The declaration of Martial Law and its extensions ushered in substantial economic gains in Davao and the whole of Mindanao, especially on security and peace and order. These brought about the increase in tourism activity and decrease in crime index. In fact, we can safely say that it weakened rebellion as many rebels surrendered. Also, it reduced incidents of extortion on businessmen because of martial law," Eleanor Dela Peña, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Davao chapter president, said.
Not all positive
While there are those who see the good in martial law, progressive and human rights groups continue to call for the lifting of its declaration due to alleged human rights violations.
Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organization secretary general Jong Monzon said many have been displaced since the Martial Law was implemented.
He said the Lumad communities were deeply affected due to ongoing military operations in their areas.
"Di man nato mabati sa kasyudaran, apan mabati sa mga lumad sa kabukiran (We may not feel it (martial law) in the city, but its impacts were felt by the lumads in the hinterlands)," Monzon told Sunstar Davao.
Groups claim that martial law played a part in the closure of some community schools. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had alleged that these schools are being operated by the New People's Army (NPA).
One of them is a school operated by non-government organization Salugpungan Ta’tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center, Inc.
Previous reports claimed that some parents of the Salugpungan students had told authorities about their suspicion that the school was teaching children to rebel against the government.
However, Monzon said these were just accusations being spread by the military to bar the community from accessing education.
He also said the communities were the ones who demanded for the school to be opened in their area.
"Part ni sa plano nga pagpasulod sa mga investors sa community. Sa taas nga panahon nga gidepensahan sa komunidad nga di pasudlan ilabi na sa dagko nga minahan and plantation, gipakita lang sa estado nga mao kana ang rason ngano gipatuman ang maong Martial Law (This is a strategy to let investors in. The community has been defending their area from any investors, especially those into mining and looking for large plantation sites. The state is only showing that this is their real intention of implementing martial law)," Monzon said.
Based on the records of Save Our Schools Network, an alliance of non-government organizations (NGOs) for lumad students’ right to education, a total of 11,000 displaced students were recorded since the Martial Law implementation, while 111 teachers and other school volunteers were filed with charges for alleged involvement in left-leaning activities.
The group also recorded 500 military attacks on community schools in Davao City, while a total of 97 schools are temporarily closed in Mindanao.
Jayvie Cabajes, Kabataan party list vice chair for Mindanao, said attacks on youth groups were rampant since martial law.
"May instances na pumupunta sila (military) sa university para hanapin sino dito mga miyembro sa mga grupo or sino dito ang mga nagra-rally, based sa mga accounts ng kasamahan namin (There were instances that the military would be going to schools to look for members of progressive groups or those who are participating in rallies, based on the accounts of our colleagues)," he added.
Cabajes said this had not hindered them from continuously calling for the revocation of martial law.
"Mas lalong lumalakas ang hanay ng kabataan at patuloy na sinisigaw ang pagbasura sa Martial Law, dahil nakikita nila na ang samut-saring problema sa implementasyon nito (Our call to end martial law will become louder because we saw many problems on its implementation)", he said.
Despite the alleged human rights violations, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Davao chapter said it did not receive any human rights complaints or assistance since the Martial Law was implemented.
IBP, a non-partisan organization, had been providing free legal assistance to the poor and the marginalized.
Dela Peña said during the early implementation of martial law, they were anticipating that there would be human rights violation cases victims who would seek legal assistance from their office.
"I remember we even planned to distribute fliers on what to do during the time of martial law, so that the citizens would know their rights," Dela Peña said.
She said the group is ready to accommodate martial law victims.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) said they have also not reported any human rights abuses during Martial Law’s two-year enforcement and said it has been beneficial in ensuring peace contrary to what other groups claim.
"The implementation of Martial Law helps us to prevent terrorism in Eastern Mindanao. We were able to prevent the execution of the plan of all terror groups and this was proven in having a secured, orderly and free election on May 13, 2019; and the safe conduct of national and international events in Eastern Mindanao," Eastmincom deputy commander Brigadier General Ernesto Torres said.
Torres emphasized that they uphold the rights of the citizens in the conduct of their security operation. In fact, to date, they have not monitored any formal complaints of human rights abuses.
"With or without martial law, the Armed Forces of the Philippines have constantly been respecting human rights. In fact, human rights education is incorporated in all our training at all level. Human rights violation, in any form, shall never be tolerated in our organization," he further said.
Meanwhile, authorities have been challenging those who are claiming to have been a victim of abuse to come forward and file legal action, citing that they do not tolerate such action among their ranks.
"Should there be an allegation of such, we shall deal with it seriously," Torres said.
Peace and order
Dela Peña said the extension of Martial Law was necessary to eliminate extremism here in the island, as ultimate criteria for "presence of rebellion, invasion or when public safety requires it."
"The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) is there, the Maute followers are there. They were not totally annihilated. The remnants can still sow terror. The danger of attack by these evil forces is always lurking behind and we can never tell when they will strike again. Shall we wait until they are in our doorsteps one day? God forbid," Dela Peña said.
Martial Law under Duterte's administration, Torres said, has gained the support of the public as they feel safer from threats.
"The positive reaction and acceptance of the martial law implementation are indicators that the Dabawenyos are psychologically and physically secure and this is what we intend to sustain," he added. Reuel John F. Lumawag, Juliet C. Revita, Lyka Amethyst H. Casamayor, Ralph Lawrence G. Llemit