CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 June 2017

Print Version    Email to Friend
First Mindanao then the country?

HONG KONG (SE): Two terrorist attacks on opposite sides of the world took place within 24 hours of each other on May 22 and 23.
 
In England, a bomb was detonated at a pop concert leaving some 22 mostly young people dead and in The Philippines, the city of Marawi in the troubled region of Mindanao was attacked, leaving many dozens more dead and hundreds of thousands of lives disrupted, a church in flames and Father Chito Suganob, as well as some 14 parishioners and 20 staff and students from the Protestant Dansalan College, abducted.
 
These two Christian institutions in Marawi have been regarded as together forming the cradle of interfaith dialogue in Mindanao.
 
The attack was carried out by several dozen armed men from a group known as Maute, an organisation made up mostly of disaffected members of the Moro Islamic and National Liberation Front with self-confessed links to the Islamic State.
 
While in reality its link with the international terrorist group may be more fantasy than fact, it is trying to prove its worth to the caliphate Catalan by demonstrating it can occupy territory, but to date has only succeeded in putting a tenuous hold on a few sections of the city.
 
The days since the attack have been marked with heavy firefighting and strafing from military helicopters, with an estimated 55,000 families leaving town.
 
While the situations in England and The Philippines are radically different, the response of their leaders has been even more radically at variance.
 
The British prime minister, Theresa May, appeared on television speaking calmly and intelligently to her people.
 
In a sombre, yet confident tone, she encouraged them to be brave and embrace each other, showing a face of solidarity as a determined, unified people.
 
In stark contrast, the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, came out spitting chips, promising to divide the people through a declaration of martial law and the replacement of Islamist terrorism with state terrorism.
 
In a statement crafted on the plane in Moscow airport before he hotfooted back to Manila from a state visit to Russia, he said that martial law would be imposed and promised it would be every bit as violent as the bloodlust of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and early 1980s.
 
Confident that fear is the key, Duterte predicted that he would fix the problem, but few in the shell shocked region of Mindanao believe him.
 
Before dawn on the following day, reports were saying that the streets across the island were full of heavy military vehicles with soldiers toting guns and menacing the people.
 
In some places the military was isolating Christians from their Muslim friends, forcing them to move out of their homes and settle in mono-religious conclaves, sowing enmity between them.
 
Bishop Edwin dela Peña, from Marawi, said people were terrified that the army, which was poised outside the city, would drop bombs and strafe the area, inevitably causing civilian casualties. His fears were soon realised.
 
The attack on St. Mary’s Cathedral took place in the late afternoon of May 23 as the last Mass of the novena for Our Lady Help of Christians was being celebrated.
 
Father Suganob and parishioners who were taken prisoner had only the sight of a burning church with which to remember their hour of prayer.
 
But the impact of Duterte’s thunderbolt is being felt even in places far from Mindanao.
 
A Muslim imam, Alibasher Linog, who is active in the Christian-Muslim dialogue movement in Davao City, had planned to stay with friends in Quiapo, Manila, but when he approached their home, the area was surrounded by heavily armed soldiers.
 
Fearing for his safety, he sought hospitality with Christian friends on the other side of town.
 
Lourdes dela Torre, a peace educator and community organiser in Bukidnon, told MindaNews, “The president has an authoritarian character. Expect violence to escalate as the military is now given the power through the barrel of the gun. How will this affect the civilian authorities? What are the rights of civilians that are threatened by this declaration?”
 
Bishop José Cabantan, from Malaybalay, spoke for those who are old enough to remember, saying, “Martial law brings bad memories from the past… Arrest without warrant, illegal detention and salvaging happening day to day. An atmosphere of fear predominated all over the land.”
 
Bishop Cabantan queried, “So is there no other way of containing these armed groups? Martial Law will just add more chaos, abuses to our already troubled and conflicting situation.”
 
Father Amado Picardal, from the Basic Ecclesial Communities, described declaring martial law right across Mindanao, while only Marawi was attacked, as either idiotic or an excuse to expand dictatorial control.
 
The founder of the Communist Party of The Philippines, José Sison, a survivor of the prison cells of the Marcos era, agreed with the Redemptorist priest saying that Duterte is obviously playing for control.
 
Sison hit a hot button noting that martial law would have serious ramifications for the peace process, in which he is a negotiator for the National Democratic Front.
 
Believing that Duterte’s next move will be martial law across the whole country, he told the Inquirer, “I’m sure that putting the entire Philippines under martial law, after what seems to be a trial balloon in Mindanao, would impact negatively on the peace negotiations.”
 
The talks continued in the Netherlands on May 27, but floundered in the first session when the New People’s Army signalled its opposition to martial law by ordering more strategic strikes.
 
The government panel responded by calling off talks  and, although hopes remained they would be continued later, on the following day the panel said it would no longer participate.
 
Kaloy Manlupig, the president of Balay Mindanaw, questioned why the declaration of martial law covers the whole of Mindanao.
 
Sison gave him his answer, saying he believes Duterte is using the crisis in Marawi as an excuse to do what he has always wanted to do, impose martial law. “Duterte is playing with fire if he thinks it is a solution to Philippine problems,” he commented.
 
The initial declaration is for 60 days, as that is the maximum period allowed by law, but with the consent of the congress it can be extended.
 
When questioned, the president said it will go on for as long as it takes. In a video post he said, “Let me just tell everybody that I have declared martial law for Mindanao. How long? Well, how, how, if it would take a year to do it, then we’ll do it.”
 
Father Paul Glynn, the director of the Columbans in The Philippines, has spent most of his missionary life with the Silsilah Movement in Davao City, tramping Mindanao promoting relations between Christians and Muslims.
 
Father Glynn said that the only sign of hope he sees is that many people from the two faiths are really standing together in solidarity, despite the efforts of the administration to divide them.
 
But in another way, he said he feels like four decades of work that began with the first bishop of Marawi, Bishop Benny Tudtud, when he made the move from the predominately Catholic Iligan City to the more than 90 per cent Muslim stronghold in 1977 has gone down the drain.
 
Bishop Tudtud chose to begin a campaign he described in his own words as “to be ready to discover the face of God in the other’s Muslim faith.”
 
A second bright spot was a picture of the captives posted on Facebook on the morning after they were abducted. “We are praying that the abductors do not kill any of them,” Father Glynn said.
 
However, the day turned sour when Father Suganob telephoned Bishop dela Peña saying that the rebel group had threatened to kill one hostage every hour if he did not ask the army to call its dogs off.
 
It is believed the Maute Group wants a hostage swap for safe passage, but some of the students are already thought to be dead.
 
As military planes bombed the city, trapped civilians in the almost deserted city were seen waving white flags from their windows and some areas were on fire.
 
Archbishop Socrates Villegas begged the government to make people’s safety its priority.
 
In England, May did much to dispel the fear among her people, but in The Philippines, Duterte has set out to increase it, leaving migrant workers in Hong Kong deeply worried about their families back home.
 
In a statement from BAYAN, Eman Villanueva said, “As Filipinos miles away from our homeland, we are very much concerned with the safety of our families and people in Marawi City. This concern is not dissipated, but actually aggravated by the declaration of martial law in the whole of the island of Mindanao.”
 
Villanueva added that the president’s action contradicts a statement he made at a forum with Filipinos in Hong Kong on May 13 when he said he cannot be a war president.
 
“But isn’t martial law a mark of war and a militarist president?” Villanueva queried.
 
A former community worker in Hong Kong, Edna Aquino, appealed for calm encouraging Filipinos not to be taken in by fake news. “The campaign to spread half-truths, lies has been launched alongside the martial law declaration over Mindanao,” she said on her Facebook. “Be informed. Read and spread news only from reliable, verified sources.”
 
However, Sheena Suazo, from Karapatan, told MindaNews, “The various armed conflicts in Mindanao are rooted in decades-old problems of poverty, inequality, discrimination and violations of the right to self-determination. These will ultimately require more than just a military solution. Martial law is not the answer.”

More from this section