When terrorists started their siege and occupation of Marawi City on May 23, torching a school and the city’s jail, killing civilians and taking some clerics hostage, messages quickly spread on social media. What struck me were the clearly uninformed comments in a Viber group composed of—ironically—lawyers. A number criticized the declaration of martial law by President Rodrigo R. Duterte, saying he was worse than Marcos who declared martial law in 1972; others said why martial law, “Maute group lang naman pala yan? [It’s just the Maute group].” Still some said “Anong rebellion dyan? [What makes that a rebellion?]”
I was appalled, to say the least, at their refusal to recognize the seriousness of the problem in Marawi City that drove nearly all its residents to flee, either by motorized transport or foot, braving the danger of being taken hostage or killed as was the fate of nine civilians who were ordered to get off their vehicle in a checkpoint manned by the Maute terrorists and mercilessly peppered with bullets. While I understood that because they were safely in Manila, they did not feel what the residents of Marawi and nearby cities or municipalities felt, I was shocked nonetheless that though they are lawyers they did not see that the rising and taking up of arms by these terrorists and the planting of the ISIS flags all over the city in order to remove it from its allegiance to the Philippine government and its laws constituted what rebellion is. If they could not see the intensity of the danger to the lives of the people in Marawi and that their fear was real, I was hoping that they would at least analyze the situation from the point of view of the law rather than blindly associating President Duterte’s martial law with the excesses of martial law in the Marcos regime.
Their noises somewhat toned down when former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Vicente V. Mendoza who is recognized as a Constitutional Law expert, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Philippine Bar Association issued statements in support of the declaration of martial law in Mindanao. Justice VV Mendoza said that the President’s decision to impose martial law in Mindanao was justified and needed. He also said that the government cannot be accused of violating the Bill of Rights during martial law and when the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended. He explained that one has to look at the situation from the military’s point of view, that is, when arrests need to be made, exigencies justify not having to go to the courts to obtain warrants of arrest. He added that it is not for anyone to say that the President’s judgment in declaring martial law is right or wrong because that is the President’s sole prerogative. The presumption is that the President acted correctly, he said. For its part, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines said that the Constitution is clear on the authority of the President to declare martial law, the extent of the authority and remedies and safeguards against the abuse of authority. The Philippine Bar Association too expressed its support for the President’s decision saying that the declaration of martial law is a power given to the President by the Constitution which he may use to protect our democracy, to ensure the return of peace and order, and to defend the rule of law.
The violent attempt by the Maute terror group to occupy Marawi City and remove it from its allegiance to the Philippine government brought to light facts that Filipinos in general, especially those living in Metro Manila, did not know about.
For one, with the attacks on mostly civilian populations carried out by Islamic radicals all over the world, most have come to believe that the Islamic faith teaches them violence. But, truth be told, the Marawi siege has led many Muslims to come out and declare that their faith has extensive teachings on fraternalism, love, and tolerance in religion. They say that their prophet, Mohammad, extended friendship to the Catholic, Jewish and pagan communities in ancient Mediterranean communities that later became countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Among the first official acts of Mohammad after he established the first ever Muslim community in what is now Saudi Arabia, they say, was to send a letter to Catholics in a monastery in Mt. Sinai in Egypt assuring them of respect of their religion and protection in case of persecution by any feudal group. This letter is intact in a religious museum in Turkey, according to officials of government accredited Islamic schools in Mindanao.
It is my belief that for as long as the majority of Muslims and Moros still believe in the teachings of Mohammad and live them faithfully, there is hope, no matter how remote, that radical Islamism will in time be decimated.