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Martial Law in the Philippines

Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)


Because a few of you have asked about it, here’s my take on martial law on Mindanao.

Martial Law Declared

On May 23, Philippines President Duterte put the Philippine island that I live on under martial law. The declaration of martial law was in response to fighting that had broken out in Marawi, a city of 200,000 that lies 160 miles (258KM) to the northwest of where I live in Davao City. Marawi City and Davao City are over 5 hours apart.

What Does Martial Law Mean?

The military and the police often work together in the Philippines but they have different powers, legally. It’s my understanding that declaring martial law gives the military enhanced powers normally reserved to the police. Under martial law, the military can make arrests and conduct searches and set up checkpoints.

What is known in legal terms as “the writ of habeas corpus” has been suspended as well. Normally, arrests (unless a person is “caught in the act”) and searches are conducted under a warrant issued by a court. When the writ of habeas corpus is suspended, it means that arrests and searches can be made without a warrant.

What Does Martial Law Mean For Me?

The declaration of martial law has had no effect at all on my life here in Davao.

Before the Marawi incident, another brigade of AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) soldiers was deployed to Davao City. That was in response to communist rebels attacking three factories owned by a company the rebels say treats its workers badly.

After that deployment, I expected to see more of a military presence in the streets of the city but I have not. However the military is deploying those soldiers, they aren’t along routes I travel or at places I visit.

It’s very much the same since the President declared martial law. I have not seen any soldiers in the streets. I have seen fewer than a dozen special unit police officers dressed in fatigues and carrying rifles. The extra police are at points where jeepneys load an unload. They are probably at the various bus terminals here in the city as well but I haven’t seen them with my own eyes.

The national government has not, as yet, decided on the scope or implementation of martial law outside of the “hot” zone of Marawi. As far as martial law’s application to Davao, as I said, nothing much has changed here as far as I can tell. We are not under curfew or subject to random stops and searches or anything remotely like that.

More Questions

Some more questions I’ve gotten about the declaration of martial law:

Aren’t you afraid?

Initially, I was afraid when I heard about the attack in Marwari City. Any foreigner would be, given that the terrorists like to kidnap foreigners and cut their heads off when they don’t get a ransom for them.

I was also afraid when I heard about martial law. I’ve never been under martial law before. I didn’t (and still don’t) really know what to expect. I’m concerned that things might get out of hand with the extra powers that the military now has. But I’m way more afraid of the bad guys in Marwari than I am of the good guys.

Aren’t the Philippine military and police corrupt?

Well, there have been stories about corruption in the ranks of both the military and the police. Some members of each were caught and charged or tried already on charges of various levels of corruption. Beyond that, I have no knowledge of corruption.

What I do know is that members of the military and the police force die every month defending their oaths to the people of the Philippines. As of this writing, 15 members of the AFP have died in Marawi. Whether or not elements in each are corrupt has no bearing on my respect or confidence in the AFP or the PNP.

Why was martial law declared over the whole island and not just in Marawi?

The short answer to that is: I don’t know.

I presume that President Duterte knows but he hasn’t told me why yet. 🙂

I can offer an uninformed opinion, though. Mindanao is a big island. There are more rebels here than just the ones in Marawi. If there is another attack somewhere else or if the military must pursue the Mautes beyond Marawi, having martial law already declared over the whole island gives the authorities some flexibility and aids a rapid response. But, really, I’m no military strategist so I’m just guessing.

Do you feel safe?

Do you? In the US, you can lose your life sitting in a movie theater when someone decides to open fire on the audience. You can catch a bullet in the head at a party when a jealous boyfriend starts shooting the place up because his ex is kissing another guy. You can be stabbed to death on a train when you try to calm down some dime-store Nazi.

In England or France, you can be attending a concert when dirtbags decide to kill people. In Istanbul, you can be changing planes at the airport and be killed. The odds are that won’t happen, though.

Here in Davao, the odds are that I will be perfectly safe. I feel safe. I live my life in a friendly way, don’t argue with people, treat everyone fairly, and try to keep my wits about me out in public.

If it so happens that my luck plays out against me, well, that’s about what you can expect from a life that began with a chance encounter between an egg and a sperm, isn’t it?

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One Response to Martial Law in the Philippines

  1. Paul Robertson July 20, 2017 at 4:10 PM #

    I live in Bislig City, not far from you and I have seen no change here. For the first few nights I actually got some good sleep because the Filipinos thought there was a curfew but once that was cleared up they were back in force with their noisy tricycles and motorcycles.