Armed Forces of the People

It’s now the “Armed Forces of the People” and the nation has nothing to fear. The Armed Forces of the Philippines gave this assurance yesterday amid concerns raised over President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in the entire Mindanao after the Maute and Abu Sayyaf attacked Marawi City. It’s a different AFP, military officials said as they lamented that some people are “living in the past.”

It may be a different AFP, but in the light of the brutal war on drugs, the fears are not entirely baseless. The Philippine National Police is the one in charge of battling the drug menace, but it is waging the war on orders from the top. With President Duterte aiming to eliminate the terrorist threat in Mindanao “once and for all,” there is always a risk that the rights of law-abiding citizens could be blatantly violated in the name of national security.

So far there have been no such complaints. The government is doing the right thing in setting up a mechanism where civilians can report abuses by AFP members while martial law is in effect.

The declaration of martial law has its critics, as can be expected in a nation that has suffered under a military-backed dictatorship. But seeing the pillage of Marawi City, many people are ready to support efforts to neutralize armed enemies of the state who play by no international rules, who have repeatedly shown their brutality and disregard for human life.

For several years the Maute and Abu Sayyaf have kidnapped and decapitated hostages including many foreigners. The bandits have torched churches, schools and other soft targets, and generally contributed to poverty and underdevelopment in many parts of Mindanao. There is a real possibility that the threat, inspired by the terrorist Islamic State, could spread to the Visayas and Luzon including Metro Manila. AFP members are now risking their lives in battling this threat. In waging this war, the AFP must show that martial law can have legitimate uses.

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