MANILA, Philippines – Citing alleged incidents of worsening collateral damage stemming from President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law as the solution to the Marawi crisis, activists from Mindanao on Monday trooped to Manila to denounce the military rule in Southern Philippines.
In a protest-rally held in front of the Department of Defense headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, the activists, who were joined by their counterparts from the National Capital Region, denounced the aerial bombings and firing at Moro communities that were far from the sites of the clashes between Maute rebels and government forces.
According to the activists, these alleged military assaults were carried out by some 240 elements of the Philippine Army’s 39th Infantry Battalion last Thursday, May 25, from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. in areas in North Cotabato and Bukidnon that “are at least 100 kilometers away from Marawi City.”
This, they said, resulted in the displacement of about 1,000 Moro residents or 252 families from sitios Pedtobawan, Campo, Apulan, and Centro Salat in Barangay Salat, and in Sitio Libpas in Barangay Tuael in President Roxas, North Cotabato and in barangays Tangkulan and Anggaan in Damulog, Bukidnon.
Rights groups also reported that in Brgy. Salat, resident Abdullah Mamansag was killed when shrapnels from the artillery bombs of the military hit his spine and severed his right leg.
Also, they said 25-year-old Norhamin Dataya, and 14-year-old Dodong (not his real name) were wounded during the alleged assaults and are now in critical condition. Dataya’s house was also destroyed during the bombing.
In Brgy. Tuael, Pres. Roxas, N. Cotabato and Brgys. Tangkulan and Anggaan, Damulog, Bukidnon, soldiers from the 39th Infantry Battalion also reportedly fired at the houses of residents using 50-caliber machine guns, according to the groups.
They also claimed that on Sunday morning, May 28, two farmer members of the Unyon sa Mag-uuma nga Nakigbisog — Nestor Quintaro and Gilbert Rodella — were illegally arrested by elements of the 66th Infantry Battalion for still unknown charges, while another farmer, Eranio Lapus, remains missing.
“These reports belie the alleged benevolence of Martial Law in Mindanao. Civilians are the first casulaties as communities are militarized,” the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said in a statement.
The activists said more reports of military attacks on communities were expected to come in as martial law in Mindanao approaches its first week.
Meanwhile, the groups decried how the “militarists” in the Duterte regime were allegedly “getting their way,” first through the declaration of Martial Law, and now with the cancellation of the fifth round of formal peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Bayan said it was the declaration of Martial Law “that undermined what could have been a conducive environment for peace negotiations.”
“Field reports showing AFP attacks on communities left the revolutionary forces no choice but to undertake defensive and counter-offensive actions,” the group said.
“That the NDFP was even willing to enter into cooperation with the GRP against the Maute and ISIS-affiliated groups shows the flexibility of the revolutionary forces and the unreasonableness of the GRP position in cancelling the formal talks,” said Bayan.
“The cancellation of the formal talks will only benefit the pro-US militarists and ultra Right. The people would have lost another chance to see progress in the peace talks aimed at addressing the roots of the armed conflict,” the group added.