CBCP exec: Martial law in Mindanao 'practical' step to contain violence

Aleta Nieva Nishimori, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 26 2017 08:40 PM | Updated as of May 26 2017 10:05 PM

No reason to fear martial law, says AFP spokesman 

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte attended a situation briefing at the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade (MIB) headquarters in Iligan City, Lanao del Norte on May 26, 2017. Malacanang Photo

MANILA – An official of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) believes declaring martial law may be a practical solution to curb violence in Mindanao but reminded officials to keep in mind the lessons of martial rule in the past. 

Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive director of the CBCP Permanent Committee on Public Affairs, said Catholic bishops understand the need for security and order following deadly clashes between government forces and Maute fighters in Marawi and the kidnapping of a priest and several parishioners in the city. 

"The reason behind the declaration is very clear: because of terrorism. The terrorists are there, and then there is a priest who is actually kidnapped," he said in an ANC interview. 

"Terrorism is not limited only in Marawi. So, declaring martial law in the whole of Mindanao is, I think, practical in a sense, just to contain the spread of violence."

The CBCP official noted, people living in Mindanao have welcomed the martial law declaration in light of concerns that the terrorists could assimilate with locals. 

However, Secillano also acknowledged concerns that the declaration of martial law could lead to human rights violations.

"The primary concerns, of course, are the violations that may go along with it. There is always that thought that maybe because of martial law, then violations against human rights are going to happen and civil liberties are going to be abused. These are valid concerns, I understand their sentiments and because we do not want the people to suffer again,” he said.

"We should not forget the past. We should learn from the past," he added. 


Meantime, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Restituto Padilla said there is no reason to be afraid of martial law. 

He appealed to the public that if there are abuses from the men in uniform, they should report it so that the AFP can act swiftly against those responsible. 
Padilla urged the people to be patient with security measures such as checkpoints and curfews. He said these being done for the safety of the people. 

Last Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on the island of Mindanao following deadly clashes between government forces and Maute fighters in Marawi City. 

Cutting short an official trip to Russia, Duterte vowed he will deal harshly with terrorists and said the martial rule would remain in place for a year if necessary.

The Philippines endured a decade of martial law under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos from the early 1970s and memories of campaigns to restore democracy and protect human rights are fresh in the minds of many people.

Secillano admitted many Church officials are "allergic" to any declaration of martial law in the country because of various human rights violations committed during the Marcos regime. 

However, some bishops are more open to the declaration of martial rule in Mindanao due to the terrorism threat. 

“I cannot predict if [CBCP President] Archbishop Socrates Villegas is going to make a statement regarding this matter but right now, because the issue is very critical also as far as negotiations are concerned--we have a priest who was taken hostage--so we cannot actually comment on the matter yet. Maybe in due time this is going to be discussed in the [CBCP] Permanent Council in July,” he said.

He clarified that his opinion is personal and does not represent the stand of the CBCP.

He also said, President Duterte's statement that martial law may be expanded to cover the Visayas is "a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea."

"When we speak of terrorism, it’s real. It’s happening. But we cannot actually also predict if this is going to escalate especially now that terrorism is actually here in the Philippines and in Mindanao,” he said. 

"In that case, I think the government has to do something, and on the other hand, if we are going to impose martial law in the whole of the Philippines, that’s a great concern.”

The CBCP official said declaring martial law is not merely about the legality of the declaration but also an issue of trust. He said that while many Filipinos trust the President enough to declare martial law in Mindanao, imposing it in the entire country may be another matter because of the experience during the Marcos dictatorship. 

"When it was declared in Mindanao, there were so many sectors who trust him. But I don't think if he declares martial law in the whole Philippines the people are going to be receptive of it. There has to be a clear reason, not an excuse," he said.

"This is really a very sensitive issue. So I'm just saying, if there are issues like this in the country I don't think the bishops are going to take this sitting down. I think the bishops are also going to address this particular concern. I don't want to predict what they are going to do but later on, they are going to address this issue."

He also noted that Catholic bishops area being prudent about the matter.

"Because there are actions underway, there are strategies being done so we do not want to preempt whatever it is they are doing right now,” he said. -- With Reuters