COMMUNIST rebels in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao vowed to fiercely resist the extension of martial law that rights advocates say will only worsen human rights violations by the state against dissenters and indigenous peoples.
In a joint session, the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives approved on Dec 13 the request of President Rodrigo Duterte to extend martial law in Mindanao until Dec 31, 2018.
“The imposition of a one-year martial law extension in Mindanao will heighten the people’s resistance to Duterte’s dictatorship. More and more, he is pushing people to resort to armed struggle as they suffer under his intensifying fascist rule,” the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said in a statement.
Duterte will have himself to blame for the rising resistance in Mindanao, the group said, noting that historically, the New People’s Army (NPA), the CPP’s armed wing, grew almost tenfold when the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law nationwide in 1972,
The communist guerrillas peaked to more than 20,000 fighters during the dictatorship of Marcos who was ousted by the popular peaceful EDSA People’s Power revolution in 1986. The military placed the rebels’ current strength to a few thousand fighters.
Duterte imposed martial law in Mindanao on May 23 after the Islamic State-aligned Maute Group laid siege on the Islamic City of Marawi that displaced over 400,000 civilians.
The five-month war between government forces, aided by United States intelligence information, and the Islamic militants left the core of Marawi in shambles. More than 1,100 people were killed, mostly from the militants’ side.
The Islamic militants, headed by two Maute brothers and Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon who were all killed in the battle, attacked Marawi with the aim of establishing a “wilayat” or Islamic state there. Hapilon was the designated Islamic State emir in Southeast Asia.
Duterte requested the Philippine Congress to extend martial law in Mindanao for another year to quell the continuing threats of Islamic State-inspired militants and the communist rebels.
Early this month before Duterte asked Congress to extend martial law, he declared the CPP and the NPA as terrorist organisations due to their continuing violent acts, which the strongman also cited as a key reason in terminating the peace talks with the communist rebels.
Efren Aksasato, a communist rebel spokesperson in Mindanao, said the martial law extension will make Mindanaoans “defenceless against unrestrained violations of human rights, worsen their poverty and gravely suppress their legitimate struggles.”
“Duterte has become desperately mad about his political ambitions and greed that he is obstinately setting up a fascist dictatorship to ensure his power,” Aksasato said in a statement emailed to Asian Correspondent.
“He certainly never learned from history that fascist aggression can never suppress the people’s desire for emancipation. Rather, brutality will beget the masses’ resistance and determination to overthrow his rule,” the rebel leader added.
Data from the rights group Karapatan or the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights showed that since Duterte assumed power in June 2016, at least 113 activists were killed, 27 of them belonging to indigenous peoples fighting for their rights to their ancestral lands and corporate encroachment.
Early this month, 10 indigenous peoples in a remote village in Lake Sebu township in South Cotabato province were killed during an alleged encounter between the military and the communist rebels.
Karapatan described the incident as a massacre, contrary to the claims of the military that they were communist rebels killed in a legitimate encounter.
“This latest massacre is a vivid picture of the indignity of martial law. This is a sample of how such policies can gravely affect indigenous communities fighting and asserting their right to self-determination,” Karapatan deputy secretary-general Roneo Clamor told reporters in Manila.
“Instead of addressing these communities’ concerns, the Duterte government’s response is brutal repression,” he said.
Hundreds of rights advocates and indigenous peoples held a 10-day picket at the South Cotabato provincial capital, which ended Tuesday, to condemn the killings in Lake Sebu township.
“The victims were civilians and not NPA members. They were opposing coal mining and coffee plantation operations in their village,” Jimmy Balbino, regional spokesman of the Federation of Indigenous Peoples in Far South Mindanao told Asian Correspondent.
Among those killed were Datu Victor Danyan, chairman of the T’boli-Manobo S’daf Claimant Organization (Tamasco), and three of his family members, said Sister Susan Bolanio, executive director of Oblates of Notre Dame-run Hesed Foundation, Inc.
The community of Datu Danyan in Datal Bonlangon is a mission area of Hesed Foundation for more than a decade now, helping the tribal members in their struggle against coffee plantation and coal mining as well as providing them farming livelihood alternatives.
Bolanio, who conducted a fact-finding mission in the area, said 10 other tribal members were missing following the alleged encounter between the military and NPA rebels there.
“According to community members, there was a series of shelling of 105 howitzer cannons, followed by gunfire from different directions in Datal Bonlangon. This resulted to chaos that forced the community members to run for their lives,” the nun said.