Calls are growing for a declaration of martial law in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao in the wake of a series of attacks. In the most recent, on Dec. 13 dozens of Moro militants used sledgehammers and bolt cutters to smash their way into the Basilan provincial jail, freeing 31 inmates—including two commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). A jail guard and one of the raiders were killed in the pre-dawn assault. (Inquirer, Manila, Dec. 14)
Four days earlier in Agusan del Sur province, Manobo tribesmen kidnapped 75 schoolteachers and students. After days of negotiations and a tense stand-off with troops at the gunmen’s mountain hideout, the last of the hostages were released Dec. 14. The group’s leader, Ondo Perez, is said to be a former communist guerilla. Initial demands were for the arrest of rival tribal leaders he said were responsible for the murder of his followers. Later, he demanded animal sacrifices before the remaining 45 hostages were released. Sacrificed animals were reportedly brought to local tribal leaders as part of the deal. Clan wars, known locally as “rido,” are increasingly common in the region. Manila denied claims that martial law was being considered for Basilan and Agusan del Sur provinces. (Philippine Star, Dec. 14; Philippine Star, Dec. 13)
The incidents comes on the heels of the Philippines’ first martial law declaration since the 1986 fall of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, in the Mindanao province of Maguindanao. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo rescinded the declaration Dec. 12, reinstating habeas corpus rights in the province. Another proclamation declaring a “state of emergency” in the province will remain in effect, and the deployment of troops to Maguindanao will continue.
The declarations were announced after a Nov. 23 inter-factional attack left 57 dead. Authorities have arrested several suspects in connection with the attack, including Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., and reportedly discovered an “arsenal of weapons” his followers had buried. Authorities say that militants loyal to the Ampatuan family carried out the attack against political rival Esmael Mangudadatu, who was travelling with family, aides and journalists to file as a candidate in an upcoming gubernatorial election.
Last week, Amnesty International urged Philippine authorities to establish a timetable to end martial law in the province. The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and other groups petitioned the Philippines Supreme Court to reject the declaration of martial law. (Jurist, Dec. 12)
See our last post on the struggle in Mindanao.