On 23 May 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte declared the whole of Mindanao island under martial law. This was done ostensibly to fight the armed Maute group, which has engaged Philippine military in a series of gun battles in Marawi City in Mindanao.

The ongoing battle between the Philippine forces and the Maute group has already displaced around 100,000 residents of Marawi City, according to some sources. Refugees are traveling in droves to other towns and cities in hopes of escaping the devastating effects of the ongoing conflict. Unfortunately, the situation of displaced people in refugee camps is dismal. Food is scarce, and health and other services are badly needed to stave of hunger, disease and other problems.

In addition, the declaration of martial law for the whole island is a cause for worry, given the recent pronouncement of the Duterte that he will be as “harsh” as Ferdinand Marcos when the latter declared martial law in 1972. 10,000 people became victims of extrajudicial killings under Marcos’ rule, while tens of thousands more were illegally detained. Furthermore, Duterte is exploring the idea of expanding the coverage of martial law to the whole country. Human rights abuses against civilians have already been reported, perpetrated not just the Maute group but also by alleged government forces, in Marawi and other places in Mindanao.

Martial law has almost always resulted in human rights abuses, whether in the Philippines or in other countries. The government should respect of the rights of the Filipino people while ensuring sufficient food and other services for those displaced by the fighting in Marawi.

(Photos from Jerome Aba and Suara Bangsamoro)

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