Human Rights insists martial law not needed to address terrorism, lawless violence

Though respecting the government’s decision to extend the martial law in Mindanao, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is firm on its stance that such declaration is not needed to address terrorism and lawless violence in the region.

“Consistent with our stance, the Commission believes that the police and military can address threats of terrorism and lawless violence without Martial Law,” the CHR said in a statement Friday.

The statement was issued two days after Congress granted President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to further extend martial law in Mindanao for a year.

The CHR reiterated the need for supposed cases of human rights violations in Mindanao to be addressed, saying it hopes the intent of the extension “will not be tarnished” by such abuses.

“It is now incumbent upon the government to observe and ensure the safeguards of the Constitution and our laws to prevent abuses,” it said.

The statement cited the plight of persons displaced by the five-month fighting in Marawi City who it said continue to occupy shelter sites in nearby provinces and even in Metro Manila.

The CHR is not alone in raising the possibility of human rights violations by the military as an argument — or a warning — against the extension of martial law. Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairperson Jose Maria Sison has likewise denounced prolonged martial law.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, on the other hand, claimed the military has conducted its operations professionally and with respect for human rights.

The CHR also raised the need to probe “allegations of looting by the military, unlawful/arbitrary arrests, military presence in IDP camps, cases of profiling, military harassment, enforced disappearance, torture, and extrajudicial killings.”

“We also urge the government to hold to account both state and non-state actors responsible for the atrocities committed against the local residents,” the CHR said.

At a press briefing on Friday, AFP Chief of Staff General Rey Leonardo Guerrero said the reports of looting have already been “addressed.” He said the appliances that were reported to be on board military vehicles were actually being “transported to evacuation centers upon request of the owners themselves.”

The CHR also vowed to “extend all possible assistance” to inter-agency body Task Force Bangon Marawi in its quest to rebuild war-torn communities, as well as to “ensure” that the basic rights of internally displaced persons—access to education, shelter, food, water, and proper sanitation—are met.

Martial law, which is now on its second extension, was initially declared over the entire island of Mindanao following the siege of Marawi City by the ISIS-inspired Maute terror group.