Maglana: Growing opposition to Martial Law in Mindanao

Mags Z. Maglana

ON DECEMBER 13, 2017, Philippine Congress extended until December 31, 2018 Martial Law and the suspension of the privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus in Mindanao. This was the second extension of Proclamation 216, which cited lawless activities in Mindanao that prompted the declaration of a state of national emergency in September 2016 under Proclamation 55 and the May 2017 violent acts of the Dawla Islamiyyah/Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf in Marawi City.

That the 17th Congress resoundingly approved a full-year extension of Martial Law in Mindanao was hardly surprising. It is known for being dominated by a “super majority” committed to backing the agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte. Only 27 lawmakers opposed the measure, four from the Senate and 23 from the House of Representatives (HOR).

What merits attention are public reactions to the extension by the fourth quarter of 2017 and a formal petition against the second extension filed with the Supreme Court (SC).

A December 8 to 16, 2017 Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey indicated that 62% of respondents agreed that extension was uncalled for “because the war in Marawi City is over.” Those who disagreed were at 26% and 12% were undecided.

While disagreement with the second extension was highest in Metro Manila (67%), the rest of Luzon, Mindanao, and Visayas were not far behind, where those who opposed the extension beyond December 2017 were at 63%, 62%, and 55%, respectively.

The argument that opposition to Martial Law was politically-motivated because it came from quarters contradicting President Duterte does not hold water. The same survey showed two-thirds (71 percent) of Filipinos were satisfied with Duterte’s performance. These results were even an improvement on the previous quarter’s survey, showing an increase by 5 points in gross satisfaction.

More significantly, the Fourth Quarter 2017 Social Weather Survey results were a big change from the Third Quarter 2017 Survey that probed agreement with the first extension of Proclamation 216.

The Third Quarter Survey, conducted from 23 to 27 September2017, showed that 54% of Filipinos agreed while 30% disagreed with Martial Law’s extension beyond the 60 days set by the Constitution. At that time, net agreement with the extension until end of 2017 was highest in Mindanao (+41 or very strong using SWS categories). There was also more support for the first extension from the ABC class (extremely strong +51) compared to the D class (moderately strong +26). The E class net rating was a neutral +4.

The net agreement score (subtracting % disagree from % agree) of the first extension was at +24 or moderately strong. But net agreement to the lack of need for the second extension was at +36or very strong.

Certain social media influencers have been peddling the message that Duterte “redefined” Martial Law, making it an instrument of order and a weapon against terrorism.

But more people are seeing through the smoke. Filipinos who are confident that the AFP can subdue the Maute and Abu Sayyaf even without Martial Law increased from 57% in June 2017 to 66% in December 2017.

Interestingly, those who criticize the SWS December 2017 Survey for framing the question on support to extension in relation to the end of the Marawi war seem to have forgotten that it was the original basis for Proclamation 216.

An online campaign enjoining Mindanawons to oppose the post-December extension garnered more pronounced support from different areas and sectors compared to the first months after Martial Law had been declared. Many were from Davao City.

The Makabayan Bloc of legislators and BAYAN leaders filed a petition on January 8, 2018 invoking SC judicial review powers and asking it to nullify Congressional approval of the extension because of questionable sufficiency of factual basis.

Five petitioners are Mindanawons — a Lumad woman, a farmer, a youth leader, and two party-list representatives.

Four of the 23 HOR members who dissented against the second extension are from Mindanao.

In summary, by January 2018 an increasing number of Filipinos have become unconvinced of the validity of continuing Martial Law in Mindanao and its necessity for dealing with terrorism and security problems. More Mindanawons are publicly expressing opposition to it. The poor seems to have a wait-and-see attitude to Martial Law. All these within the first eight months of its declaration. Martial Law in Mindanao is not the unchallenged new normal as some would have us believe.

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