The people of the Philippines continue to be gripped by anxiety following President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of martial law in Mindanao,as popular organizations, trade unions and leftists struggle to make sense of the conflicting signals sent by the republic's government. Regardless, the archipelago's mass movements and underground communists remain steadfast in their denunciation of martial law, warning of potentially massive rights violations.
On Friday, Philippine Army general and martial law chief Eduardo Año admitted that arbitrary arrests were occurring throughout Mindanao, mainly affecting those the army suspects “to be linked to rebellion” and the Islamic State-linked Maute group, Rappler reported. Año offered his assurances that human rights would be respected, but Filipinos remain skeptical given the recorded rights abuses that have occurred since Duterte's election over a year ago.
Duterte, however, extended a small olive branch to the Maute group insurgents, asking the Islamists Friday to begin dialogue with the government. 20 to 30 Maute fighters were still engaged in fighting against special forces personnel of the Philippine military in Marawi City, according to reports.
"My message mainly to the terrorists on the other side is we can still solve this through dialogue,” Duterte said. “And if you cannot be convinced to stop fighting, so be it. Let's just fight."
Hundreds filled the streets of Manila near Malacañang Palace to protest the order Friday, calling for an end to the impunity already enjoyed by repressive state bodies prior to the imposition of martial law.
“The Filipino people must not underestimate Duterte’s threat to extend martial law nationwide and remain vigilant against all threats to civil liberties and democratic rights,” said Vencer Crisostomo, the national chairperson of national democratic youth organization Anakbayan, according to a statement warning of the “the threat of open fascist rule across the country.”
“By boasting that Martial Law will be as harsh as the Marcos dictatorship, Duterte has given a go-signal for the AFP to intensify military abuses and human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings, abductions, torture, indiscriminate aerial and artillery bombardments, and militarization of communities,” Crisostomo added.
Meanwhile, the government has offered assurances to the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People's Army guerrillas that they will not be targeted under the martial law order, despite comments from National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that clearly stated the NPA would be targeted under the martial law declaration. The threat from Lorenzana drew an immediate defiant statement from the communists, who announced that the NPA would intensify its tactical offensives against government targets across the country.
The CPP, NPA and National Democratic Front of the Philippines, NDFP, are slated to begin their fifth round of peace talks Saturday, where a range of social reforms will be discussed. While the progressive alliance reacted with unrestrained outrage to the martial law order, following clarifications from a government representative stating that the NPA would not be targeted, the NDFP negotiating team signaled a readiness to join with the government against Islamist terrorist gangs it alleges are tied to United States meddling in the country.
CPP founder and NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison has also said that the country's left condemns the Maute group's attack on Marawi City and would be more than happy to unite with Duterte against what he called CIA-supported affiliates of the Islamic State group. Nevertheless, while the exiled NDFP chief political consultant has called the declaration of martial law wholly unjustified, he also has urged the CPP Central Committee to reconsider its order to intensify its offensive.
Nevertheless, armed forces spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla muddied the waters further on Saturday with a statement noting that under the new martial regime, the military "will enforce the law uniformly such that all violators of the law, regardless of group affiliations, will be dealt with accordingly," leaving open the possibility that groups beyond Maute would be confronted for "committing acts of rebellion."
The CPP has relentlessly criticized the government, asserting that it stands alongside the Filipino people's desire for basic civil, political and human rights.
“In Davao City, with its overzealous martial law supporter Mayor Sarah Duterte, people in their communities are being rounded up,” the CPP said. “Close to three hundred people have already been arbitrarily arrested by the military for failing to comply with the arbitrary rules imposed by the military and the militarist-minded bureaucrats.”
“With these stringent policies, Duterte is demonstrating that under his martial law, everyone is a suspect until they can prove otherwise,” the underground party continued. “As every Filipino knows, especially the poor and downtrodden, proving one’s innocence to the military is often impossible.”
Questioning government claims that martial law won't target left forces and popular movements, the Federation of Agricultural Workers, UMA Pilipinas, called on the military to withdraw from the site of a workers strike in Davao against a Korean-owned banana plantation. In a statement issued early Saturday morning, the rural union accused the 66th Infantry Batallion of the army of harassing 80 striking workers and occupying the packing plant of Shin Sun Tropical Corporation. Army personnel have even accused the union workers of being guerilla fighters of the NPA, UMA Pilipinas said.
“It is just one of too many cases of legitimate labor disputes being criminalized by state security forces,” the statement added.
“Martial law is certain to be detrimental to the struggle of MARBAI farmers against Lapanday, lumad indigenous people against mining, workers for their basic rights, urban poor against violent demolition and displacement, generally, this would benefit the landlord and rich oligarchs who are being challenged by the poor,” Anakpawis party-list Representative Ariel "Ka Ayik" Casilao said in a statement earlier this week.
The Philippine National Police in Davao warned Friday that groups that stage rallies or protests would be subject to arrest, as would any other civilian who commits “violations relative to rebellion or terrorism or in aid of terrorism.” Firearm permits for carrying guns outside of private homes have also been suspended by authorities.
Meanwhile, in Marawi City, civilians continue to suffer from the ongoing fighting between the government and the Maute group. According to Jerome Succor Aba, chairman of Muslim-left group Suara Bangsamoro, evacuees from the city of 200,000 are failing to receive health care or emergency food supplies due to stringent military measures.
Popular movements across the Philippines are planning to launch massive protest actions in coming days, according to Anakbayan.
“With his plans of imposing Martial Law, Duterte has completely shed off his pro-people posturing and unmasked his increasing reliance on state violence and fascism to prop up his rule,” Crisostomo said.