The Philippines Face Martial Law and Threat of Rape

On May 23, 2017, President Duterte declared martial law on the Philippines’ island of Mindanao, in response to an escalation in hostilities between government forces and the Maute group, a terrorist organization allied with the Islamic State. Shortly after the declaration, Duterte suspended habeas corpus, which requires a person be released from police custody unless lawful grounds are shown for their continued detention. He also warned that he may expand martial law to the Visayas, the region hardest hit by 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan and home to most of UUSC’s grassroots partners in the Philippines, if not nationwide.

In the days following the declaration, Duterte reassured the military that “he alone” would be responsible for the consequences of martial law, going so far as to tell them, “If you have committed rape, I’ll take responsibility for it.” He also reminded troops in Mindanao that, under martial law they can arrest anyone and enter anyone’s home without a warrant and he ordered the use of lethal force against anyone who resists. Warrantless arrests have already begun at checkpoints in Mindanao and there are reports of escalating human rights violations in the region.

There are good reasons to be especially concerned about the return of martial law in the Philippines. During the ten-year imposition of martial law under former President Ferdinand Marcos, there were thousands of human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions, torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. Duterte has already promised that his version of martial law would mirror Marcos’. Given the extent to which Duterte has previously disregarded human rights and overseen the degradation of the rule of law in the Philippines, there is no reason why we should not take him at his word.

An anti-martial law protest on May 24, 2017.

Human rights groups in the Philippines, including a number of UUSC’s partners, have been outspoken in their opposition to the return of martial law despite the risk that such resistance entails. Shortly after the declaration, there were anti-martial law protests across the country, and on May 30, JustPeacePH, an international platform for peace in the Philippines, issued a statement renouncing martial law in Mindanao. UUSC joins our Philippines partners and allies in opposing the return of martial law to the Philippines and the continued erosion of the rule of law and respect for human rights under President Duterte.