SINGAPORE: The extension of martial law in the southern Philippine islands of Mindanao could make anti-government extremist forces there stronger, a Muslim leader has warned.
Madam Amina Rasul-Bernardo, president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, said a return of martial law could make Muslims living in the south feel “that they have no voice and that the only way to make government listen is to get a gun and shoot it up”.
In an unexpected move, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte extended martial law over Mindanao to the end of 2018, against expectations that it would be lifted after the end of the siege of Marawi in October last year.
Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has defended the extension as necessary for curbing extremism, saying there were efforts by groups “to wage another Marawi-like urban attack”.
But Filipino Muslims - who make up 94 per cent of Mindanao residents - fear the extension of martial law may be camouflage for the abuse of minority human rights. For many of them, martial law is viewed as a threat to their very existence, Mdm Amina noted on the programme Conversation With. (Watch the interview here.)
“You could eradicate a village, you could bomb a village, and say that the extremists are there.
“And in the first martial law (under former President Ferdinand Marcos), you couldn’t ask questions,” she said. It has been acknowledged that during that period in the 1970s, some 1,500 Muslims were massacred by the Philippines Army under martial law.
In such a climate of fear, dissent could go underground, Mdm Amina warned. “If you feel that your core being, your identity, is being threatened and it’s going to be eradicated by the powers that be, you are going to react.”
Everything goes inside, and it goes deep into the ground, and it finds expression in violence.
"So the one thing that we cannot definitely do is to create an environment that will bring us back to that scenario,” said the woman named one of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims in 2017, and who served as a member of Cabinet as presidential advisor on youth affairs in the 1990s.
COUNTERING EXTREMIST NARRATIVES IS KEY
Mdm Amina pointed out that the key for the Philippine government is to counter extremists’ messages on the ground. She said many southerners are now distrustful of the central government after the destruction of Marawi.
“The one major lesson we must make sure our governments learn is that a military solution is never the answer. It has got to be a mixture.
“You’ve got to have the hard stuff - the military, the security - but you must also have a lot of effort to prevent the expansion (of extremist propaganda), to prevent the rolling over of narratives,” she said.
“One interesting thing maybe that our government should start working on is to get young leaders together with the leaders of the information technology, media and creative arts, and talk to them.
“How do you reach out so that you can neutralise these ideas that are even being rejected by Muslim religious leaders as completely un-Islamic and having no bearing in our faith?
“That’s our basic problem here – we don’t have a good communication strategy, we don’t have a communication plan,” she said.
Watch the full interview on Conversation With here. New episodes every Thursday at 8.30pm SG/HK.