Martial law extension would put human rights at risk in Mindanao, say regional MPs

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JAKARTA – Lawmakers from across Southeast Asia today warned that President Rodrigo Duterte’s move to extend martial law in Mindanao would put human rights at risk, and urged members of the Philippine Congress to reject the proposal during a joint vote on Wednesday.

The proposed extension of martial law and the suspension of habeas corpus would mark the current administration’s third prolongation of military rule on Mindanao island, after it was first introduced in May 2017. If approved by a majority vote in Congress, the extension is expected to last for one year, until 31 December 2019.

“The continued imposition of martial law threatens to facilitate a culture of impunity in Mindanao and intensify human rights violations already taking place there,” said ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) Chair Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

“We urge the Philippine authorities to scrap the plans for extending martial law, and instead take steps to end the ongoing abuses on the island. Crucially, authorities must conduct effective investigations into all allegations of human rights violations, including by military personnel.”

Martial law was declared in Mindanao, through Proclamation no. 216, on 23 May 2017 after the armed group Maute – with links to the Islamic State – carried out deadly attacks in Marawi City and occupied key infrastructure. Although the Philippines military announced the end of combat operations in October 2017 after taking back control of Marawi City, authorities say there is still a militant threat on the island, including through remnants of the Maute group.

While President Duterte has cited a need to address the “ongoing rebellion” – an element necessary for declaring or extending martial law – opponents in Congress have argued that the extension was unconstitutional due to the “absence of actual rebellion.” They also stressed that martial law is an emergency tool and “should never be treated as something ordinary and lasting.”

Local human rights groups have also reported a “marked increase of human rights violations” in Mindanao over the last one year and a half, which included forced surrenders of alleged rebels, illegal arrests, and attacks against human rights defenders.

In December 2017, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the rights of indigenous peoples and on internally displaced people – Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Cecilia Jimenez-Damary – found that militarization has led to the displacement of thousands of indigenousLumad persons and expressed alarm over reports that Lumad farmers had been killed by military forces.

On 13 May 2019, the Philippines will have its midterm election, which will see over 18,000 national and local positions up for grabs.

“Should martial law be extended, the Philippine authorities must ensure that its implementation does not prevent legislators from campaigning or carrying out other duties necessary for a functioning parliament and democracy. Any form of hindrance will not only be against the aspirations of the people in Mindanao, but will also negatively impact the overall results of the national election,” said Charles Santiago.