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Listening to Maranaw voices (2)

Mags Maglana /

Conclusion

DAVAO City–On any given day, I hear and read far more often and with voices more insistent, those who are not from the area but are convinced that the kind and level of military operations in Marawi, and the declaration and later extension of Martial Law are warranted.

The sentiments of those who want to go back to Marawi have been derided as being sentimental and unreasonable; and the matter reduced to one that is up to the military.

But perhaps those who espouse this view would not be as dismissive were they more informed that there are areas already declared by the military as safe, and not just cleared; and that many of those who talk about returning do so within the context of being able to salvage what they could of their assets.

Still, there are those who expect Maranaws to be grateful and remain untroubled while their homes are being hit by government bombs. But there must be more to the situation when provincial government officials, desperate to visit their homes in Marawi, offer to sign waivers releasing the military of all accountability.

Evacuees from urban places like Marawi have assets that are different from those displaced who come from rural areas. Many residents of Marawi had locked and left their homes with the hope that the conflict would not be drawn-out, and have not been back in more than two months.  In contrast, those who fled wars in the countryside and mountainous areas where combatants engage and then withdraw have been able to occasionally visit their homes and farms in the daytime, albeit at great risk.

If we gave consideration to these and put ourselves in the shoes of the evacuees from Marawi, there might be more support for the call to dialogue about practical options for addressing the concerns of both evacuees and military. But that would require recognizing that both agenda are important, instead of the former being subservient to the latter.

Perhaps this militarist mindset is to be anticipated. Official pronouncements, limited access to information on what was actually happening on the ground, and responses conditioned by what one knew and thought to understand about terrorism could easily come together to paint a scenario where it would seem only a scorched-earth approach would resolve Marawi’s problems.

This would also explain why many citizens, who stood against State repression in another time, summarily countenance the way things are now.

It is disturbing that Martial Law has been equated as any military action against threat groups. This messaging propagates the view that Proclamation 216 is the solution not only to terrorism, but to all kinds of criminality in Mindanao, including the ones that ought to be readily handled by the police. This underpins the position of those who say they welcome Martial Law because they feel safe.

Seemingly forgotten is the principle that it is government’s and the security sector’s responsibility to see to the safety and security of citizens from internal and external threats—and that the declaration of martial law is not a pre-requisite to accomplish this.

Martial law is an extraordinary power of the chief executive of the country and is applicable only to the specific situations of rebellion and invasion, as required by public safety. When in place, martial law actually indicates that the situation is so bad that the police power of government can only be exercised with the aid of the military.  This is not a situation that inspires visitors and motivates investors. In the Philippines, martial law cannot be discussed as if in a vacuum, because it has a history, one that is awash in blood.

There is a restaurant in Davao City that named a food item “Martial Roll” after Martial Law so that diners would experience, in the words of its promoters “the safetiness (sic), peace, solidarity and the unity here in Davao and also in Mindanao.” The restaurant reportedly donated 20 percent of proceeds presumably from sales of the dish to Marawi.

I wonder if the recipients were made aware of the conditions under which the contributions were generated; and if they had, how did they react? Could not the restaurant have pursued fundraising for Marawi without resorting to such kind of promotional gimmick? Or am I asking too much of the establishment that also proudly claims to be the originator of the Du30 Roll?

Rationalize it as marketing, or even corporate social responsibility (CSR), but there is a risk to naming a food item after a situation that speaks of emergency powers and lawlessness. The risk is contributing to the trivialization of martial law, and furthering the miseducation of our peoples. CSR is so much more than just raising funds.

Political alignments and interests play a role in defining how one stands in a dialogue. The question is whether we have sufficient self-reflexity to detect and acknowledge this tendency, and take steps to address it so that biases do not stand in the way of effective listening and dialogue.

For instance, I wonder how many Mindanawons would have endorsed the ongoing approach to the Marawi problem and Martial Law in Mindanao had a non-Mindanawon leader, or more to the point, somebody other than President Duterte, declared it?  And how many are self-aware enough to recognize that this was a consideration, if not the main one, in how they formulated and articulated their public positions?

The active aspect in active listening does not always guarantee that one can act on and resolve the causes of the conflict or problem.  Sometimes the only recourse is to listen, witness, and stand in solidarity, or respond in ways that only address effects.

But in the case of the Maranaws and the problems in the Lanao provinces, we can do more than give emergency assistance.

We can listen to, and amplify voices that are calling for a planned and calibrated return to Marawi as part of the efforts of recovery.

We can also heed and endorse the call of Maranaws to avoid measures that would only fuel terrorism in the future, and instead look for comprehensive solutions that build peace. (Mindanews)

(Mags Z. Maglana is a Mindanawon who has worked in various capacities over the past 30 years for peace, good governance, sustainable development, and the promotion of human rights. E-mail: magszmaglana@gmail.com)

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