Iligan rep says ML key to economic progress but Kabataan rep asks, ‘What about the rights violations?’

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A member of the Provincial Public Safety Company, Badak Police Assistance Center mans a checkpoint in Brgy. Bito Iwadi Itowa, Marawi City in this Dec. 12, 2017 photo--or after the siege of Marawi was declared over. BERNARD TESTA, INTERAKSYON

MANILA, Philippines — Iligan City Representative Frederick Siao, whose district has become the temporary home of displaced Marawi City residents, voted to extend martial law in Mindanao for one year, saying the recovery and rehabilitation of Marawi would not be possible if people’s safety is not assured.

Saying Mindanao is ready to be the new economic powerhouse of the country, Siao said martial law Law will ensure, in the short term, the security and safety of citizens, tourists, workers, and investors.

In the long term, it is progressive Charter change, the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and economic legislation empowering local government units and creating jobs that will boost Mindanao’s economy.

Nevertheless, he said, any kind of abuse by the military should not be tolerated.

Another lawmaker from Mindanao, Sulu Representative Shernaa Abubakar Tan, picking up on the inclusion of communist rebels as a basis for extending martial law in Mindanao, proposed that it cover Luzon and the Visayas as well since the New People’s Army is also present in those areas.

But Defense Secretary Noel Lorenzana balked at this, saying it is in Mindanao where the NPA is particularly active, with 45 percent of the rebel army “creating havoc” there. They are “manageable” in Luzon and the Visayas, he aadded.

For her part, Kabataan party-list Representative Sarah Elago said extending martial law would only allow “unlimited plunder” and not the “unlimited peace” claimed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

She stressed that the Regional Human Rights Commission of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao gathered 14,000 testimonies on human rights violations during the battle for Marawi while an international interfaith humanitarian mission recorded five cases of indiscriminate firing, six cases of illegal arrests, and 16 cases of threats, harassment, and intimidation perpetrated by the military. This did not include the illegal arrests, intimidation, looting, and other human rights violations against the internally displaced persons.

Ang AFP rin mismo ang naghahasik ng lagim at takot sa Mindanao (The AFP itself is sowing fear and terror in Mindanao),” Elago said, adding that these were a clear case of terrorism, as well.

Lorenzana replied: “Hindi po totoo ‘yun na ang AFP ang naglalabag ng karapatang pantao sa Mindanao (It is not true that the AFP is violating human rights in Mindanao) … We have strict guidelines, rules to be followed by our soldiers in operations. Hindi po ako naniniwala na kami ang nagdadala ng lagim sa Mindanao. Kung titignan po ninyo ang record namin, kami po ‘yung nagpipigil ng mga taong naghahasik ng lagim (I do not believe that we bring terror to Mindanao. If you look at our record, we are the ones who prevent the people sowing terror).”

Elago then asked if that meant the 14,000 people who testified were lying, and challenged the Armed Forces of the Philippines to investigate the alleged abuses, stressing someone has to be held accountable.

Lorenzana replied that the reports she cited had not reached them, and if she would give him a copy, they would investigate.

Elago said that the fact that rebels continue to grow in number should be a wake-up call, adding that they take up arms because of poverty, lack of land, and abuses that remain unresolved.