Repeating history

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“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

There are those who want us to forget the bitter lessons of martial law and the Marcos dictatorship. They say these hard-earned lessons should be discarded as irrelevant to our current situation because the threat of ISIS-inspired extremism is real and only martial law can stop it.

There is also the claim that President Rodrigo Duterte is motivated only by the desire to save the country from “terrorists” and the menace of illegal drugs. To do so, he has not hesitated in using the full might of the state — martial law — in order to finally slay these evils as no other previous administration has been able to.

We go back to the first lesson of martial law under the Marcos dictatorship: a mailed-fist approach to quash rebellions, much more revolutionary struggles, espousing causes that resonate with and draw support from the people — is bound to fail.

Even as we condemn terrorist activities that do nothing but violate human rights and harm civilians, we cannot turn a blind eye to the historical, socioeconomic and political roots of the armed conflicts among the Bangsamoro.

Assuming for the sake of argument that ISIS-inspired or even ISIS-funded rebel forces are active in Mindanao, it still cannot be denied that these are the offspring, albeit illegitimate, of the centuries-old oppression and discrimination suffered by the Moro people.

It is well-known that some of them, such as the Maute Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Forces or BIFF, broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), because they perceived the latter as abandoning the fight for self-determination in exchange for a flawed peace agreement with the government.

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) initially also claimed to have a political agenda akin to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the oldest armed secessionist force in Muslim Mindanao, but eventually deteriorated into a bandit group notorious for its kidnap-for-ransom activities. Recall that Senator Aquilino Pimentel had exposed the dubious origins of the ASG, a likely creation of the AFP and CIA in order to sow dissension among the MNLF as well as to undermine its political legitimacy.

Curiously, the government, especially the AFP, has always diminished the threat posed by these groups. We were told that these are small groups operating in circumscribed areas with narrow support from the Moro populace. At the onset of the operation to capture alleged ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon in Marawi City, the connection of these groups with the dreaded Daesh or ISIS in Iraq and Syria, was at best tenuous. (The AFP repeatedly said these groups merely claimed allegiance to ISIS in a bid to boost its fearsome reputation and perhaps acquire foreign funding.)

President Duterte says he recognizes the legitimacy of the MILF and MNLF as representing the nationalist aspirations of the Bangsamoro. He has nothing but contempt for the combined Maute Group/ASG/BIFF forces he categorizes as “terrorist” with no redeeming value.

Unfortunately he had been led to believe that the latter exist in a vacuum or have sprung up out of nowhere due to an evil, fanatical, foreign-inspired ideology. In the beginning of the Marawi siege, it appears he had been led to believe that these groups were an inconsequential number and could be crushed militarily in a matter of weeks so long as the armed forces of the state are given free rein.

But this was not to be. The ferocity and protractedness of the fighting shows how much the AFP had underestimated the rebel groups in Marawi City. The recourse to bombardment of the city to flush out what seems to be an elastic number of rebels has led to its destruction and depopulation with hundreds of casualties with no clear end in sight.

These subsequent developments served to bolster the argument for martial law in Marawi City and even adjoining provinces, but why the recourse to it in the entirety of Mindanao?

Defense Secretary Lorenzana admitted at the press conference in Russia that “other rebel groups” including the New People’s Army was also a target. GRP chief negotiator Bello countered Lorenzana’s seeming slip of the tongue only as a prelude to chastising the CPP-NPA’s call for intensification of tactical offensives against government forces in response to martial law.

This was followed by a chorus of peace spoilers questioning the NDFP’s sincerity in the ongoing peace talks. It is a line repeated ad nauseam in the mass media as the trigger for Duterte’s decision to withdraw the GRP negotiating panel from the 5th round of talks. It conveniently obfuscates the fact that martial law was indeed intended and in actuality is being used against the CPP-NPA and communities suspected to be under its sway.

In fact, with the acquiescence of Congress to Proclamation 216 and the imprimatur of the Supreme Court, the AFP has become more openly assertive about targeting the NPA. While Duterte has not withdrawn his “all-out-war” declaration against the CPP-NPA since February and has now cloaked the military’s abuses with the “legality” of martial law, Lorenzana has the gall to call for the collapse of the peace talks citing recent NPA tactical offensives.

Duterte’s martial law is actually the anti-thesis of his touted “movement for change.” In the hands of the pro-US militarists in the Duterte regime, it is being used as an extraordinary tool for fascist repression. The thousands of extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s ruthless “war on drugs” is a portent of what is bound to happen in the intensified “war on terror” under martial law.

It would be foolhardy to think Duterte was merely engaging in hyperbole when he said that like Marcos’s martial rule, his would be just as “brutal.”

Should Duterte extend martial law beyond 60 days and/or expand its coverage to the rest of the country, he will be dooming any remaining reformist impetus in his regime. In so doing, he will also doom the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations already in limbo because of the GRP’s insistence on a premature bilateral cease-fire before any agreements on basic socioeconomic reforms and Duterte’s policy of holding political prisoners hostage to the NDFP’s capitulation.

And yet the second major lesson from Marcos’s martial law comes to the fore. Rather than douse the flames of rebellion and revolution, martial law can only fuel more armed and unarmed resistance.

In fact, Marcos’s martial law was said to be the number one recruiter of the New People’s Army.

The US-backed Marcos dictatorship was eventually ousted from power by a people roused by its rapacity, brutality, and mendacity.

Martial law could indeed be the harbinger of a revolutionary upsurge that could seriously challenge, weaken and even bring down a completely reactionary and isolated Duterte regime.

Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.

carol_araullo@yahoo.com

Published in Business World
July 10, 2017

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