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In a better world.

The continuing imposition of martial law in Mindanao has become a political hot potato for the Duterte administration.

Yet with Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte baring plans to formally write the Office of the President to exempt the cities of Davao and Samal from martial rule, there is hope that the abnormal situation in Mindanao can end sooner rather than later. This request by no less than President Duterte's daughter is a matter that should definitely be considered.

In a better world, we need not even talk about the exemption of certain cities from martial law, because martial rule in Mindanao had long worn out its welcome. In fact, several sectors continue to maintain that martial rule should not have been imposed in the first place. The military top brass and members of Congress have all scrambled for sound reasoning to continue the imposition of martial law. Yet essential questions remain unanswered: Has martial rule made the citizens of Mindanao safer? Has it made Mindanao's communities more resilient? Has it made the lives of the people better?

In a better world, it should not have required the President's daughter to speak about lifting martial law, even if it were only for her city. In a better world, it should have been enough for the President to hear about excesses arising from such an abnormal situation. People like veteran journalist Margarita Valle should not have been wrongfully tailed and detained. Stories like these should have been enough to show the President that instead of ending violence, martial law has added salt to the wounds of Mindanao.

Nonetheless, Mayor Duterte's call for the lifting of martial rule in the cities of Davao and Samal is a good first step toward the restoration of normalcy in Mindanao. It is a clear message that emphasizes that even martial rule should have a statute of limitations. It might be just two cities for now, but this could create a ripple effect that can finally spur the lifting of martial law from the whole of Mindanao soon enough.

There is also some truth that continuing martial law has negative effects in the tourism industry in the region. Certainly, a martial law situation in a tourism area raises red flags for visitors around the world, as it conveys instability and conflict. Even the puff statement of the regional National Economic and Development Authority that martial law benefits tourism in the region due to rising tourist arrivals should be taken with a grain of salt. It should be noted that with the presidency of Mr. Duterte, a longtime Davao City mayor, Davao has emerged as a main political and economic hub, with politicians and businessmen flying into the southern city to meet with the who's who of the current administration.

With the spark that could finally raze down the behemoth that is martial law, now is the time for our policymakers to reflect on the future of Mindanao and the legacy of martial rule. They should reflect whether Mindanao's martial rule continues to be necessary, particularly in the main objective of rehabilitating Marawi City.

Despite martial law, not a single hollow block has been built in the most affected area of the war-ravaged city, and not a single Maranao family has been able to go back to their homes near the city center. Many months of bureaucratic indecision over how to rehabilitate Marawi have caused the city and its people to lose precious time and resources to rebuild their lives with dignity.

Better world? We are not yet there. But the lifting of martial law, at the very least in the cities of Davao and Samal, is a clear step forward in that direction.

Terry Ridon is a public interest lawyer and former urban poor chief of the Duterte administration.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Jun 27, 2019
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