I grew up in Mindanao during Martial Law days. I have a lot of memories of truckloads of soldiers passing by my grandparents’ house that sits along the highway somewhere in Davao del Norte. I am used to hearing gunshots even in Davao City. I have seen dead bodies with gunshot wounds or riddled with wounds from a machete.
I am no fan of Martial Law. I have heard of the atrocities it has caused. I know of military abuses. I have listened to stories of people who have become victims by it. I have seen my share of abusive paramilitary groups. And I have lost friends in summary killings — killed and buried in shallow graves for their ideologies somewhere in the hinterlands.
I have several military friends and teammates who are either military men and women also serving as national athletes or have been recruited to the military through our sport. I’ve heard soldiers lament about why they feel like human rights advocates are deaf to their own suffering in the hands of the enemies.
I may not be politically savvy. But my interactions with people who have different views and experiences with Martial Law helped me gain a broader perspective on the issues related to it.
I am against Martial Law because of what it represents to me. I fear for the possible repercussions of the recent proclamation covering the entire Mindanao region. I could not help but look back to the realities and the stories of the past.
But as a daughter of Mindanao, living in a region that has been largely neglected by the central government, I also understand that this time the threat is even more sinister. Local groups that have long been identified as terrorists have openly proclaimed allegiance to ISIS. They seem to be growing in numbers. And even more alarming, reports of them uniting and collaborating to pursue their cause have been surfacing since last year. And if the recent skirmishes in Marawi City indicates, these groups are indeed working together.
I see Martial Law now from the perspective of someone living in a land of so much promise but trapped in a seemingly never-ending conflict. A place of possibilities long hindered by underdevelopment, poverty, and lack of opportunities. An island where most people are really just trying to live peacefully together regardless of differences in cultures and beliefs. The promise of solutions to the terror problem makes Martial Law seem appealing, especially if you are looking at it through a lens that fails to capture the risks and dangers it may pose to the marginalized and the most vulnerable — people from far-flung areas with no access to government IDs, the uneducated, and the uninformed about their fundamental rights.
But fear from the growing threats from terrorists who have repeatedly shown how savage they can be seems to make a lot of us here in Mindanao blind and deaf to reason.
I have been silent about the issue since the president proclaimed Martial Law a few days back. Not because I do not care. But because I may be among those who are still trying to process everything in a place where the safety and security threats are much too real. I am in that place right now where emotions seem to trump logic. I am trying to put myself in the shoes of people who have direct experience with the continued war against local terror groups, those who live in remote areas who have no access to government services and aid, and everyone who has no benefit of the privileges many of us enjoy. With so many factors at play, I begin to hesitate more about saying things I may not truly understand.