CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 23 September 2017

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If martial law’s the answer what’s the question?

HONG KONG (SE): Many have asked if martial law is the answer to the crisis in Mindanao, but the director of the Columban Mission Society in Manila, Father Paul Glynn, says it is not even clear what the question is.
 
Noting that the age-old enmity between Muslims and Christians was first sown by the Spanish colonisers of the country some 500 years ago to undermine the influence of the traditional sultanates, he says that it has become so deeply ingrained as to be not easily uprooted.
 
“Such mistrust is easily manipulated,” he points out, adding that the military dictator of the 1970s and 1980s, Ferdinand Marcos, used it as an excuse for martial law, “but past experience has taught us that such attacks as the one in Marawi are not necessarily only the work of Islamist extremists.”
 
He stresses, “Suspicion abounds that some of these attacks are, at times, orchestrated by corrupt military and government officials to keep Mindanao in a state of war; a war from which some continue to gain financially.”
 
He adds that there is much suspicion about Duterte and his involvement and motive, as he openly supports Marcos’ son, Bongbong Marcos, who may also have dirty hands.
 
The Maute Group has affiliation with the older Abu Sayyaf, but Father Glynn says, “Rumours abound that certain corrupt, high-ranking politicians and military personnel have links to the Abu Sayyaf, benefitting from the perpetual state of war and, of course, the hefty ransoms gained from the kidnappings; hence the many speculations around at the moment as to who may be behind these attacks.”
 
But he laments, “Truth is a rare commodity in these circumstances.”
 
Suspicions are also fanned by the speed with which the police in Manila declared the attack on the World Resorts casino early on June 2 the work of a lone wolf. History tells us that Marcos orchestrated an attack in Miranda Plaza outside the famed Quiapo Church as part of setting the scene for martial law and Duterte is on record as saying that he is considering extending it across the whole country.
 
As Shakespeare would say, “Something is rotten…”
 
Although Mindanao is always an unstable place, reports over the past week tell of overcrowded evacuation centres, hundreds of thousands of displaced people and the struggle to welcome them to safer places, dead bodies in streets and intermittent bomb blasts.
 
In the city of Marawi, the Islamist terror group, Maute, has been locked in battle with the Philippine military since May 23.
 
The parish priest of the cathedral, Father Chito Suganob, together with a group of parishioners and some students and staff from the Protestant Dansalan College, was kidnapped and, except for a photograph posted on the Internet the following day and a later video, nothing is known of their fate.
 
In the video, Father Suganob appealed to the president to call his troops off. “They are asking for (you to) withdraw your forces from Lanao del Sur and Marawi,” Father Suganob said.
 
Claiming he was speaking for 240 prisoners of war, the bearded priest addressed Duterte saying, “If you want me to kneel before you just for you to find favour for our families who are crying out... we will do that.”
 
Appearing to be standing in the middle of a bombed out area, he pleaded with the president to withdraw his forces, saying, “Because your enemies, they are ready to die for their religion. They are ready to die that their laws will be followed.”
 
While much discussion has centred on whether he was speaking under pressure or not, a migrant worker in Hong Kong told the Sunday Examiner, “That is not how Father Chito speaks. It does not sound like him at all. I have known that guy since I was at school. He does not speak like that.”
 
But Bishop Edwin dela Peña also joined the appeal, echoing the call for a ceasefire. He added that he too had been contacted by one of the gunmen demanding a unilateral ceasefire.
 
“They want a ceasefire and for the military to give them access out of Marawi. Otherwise they will kill the hostages,” he said.
 
The bishop of Marawi stressed that the Maute will refuse to negotiate and may even use the hostages as human shields, but with Duterte equally as determined not to negotiate, a worst case scenario could see the hapless hostages never knowing whose bullets spelled their demise.
 
If as Father Glynn suggests, the bottom line question in Mindanao is to heal the mistrust between the Muslim and Christian populations, a task he has devoted his missionary life to, then martial law is definitely not the answer.

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