Martial Law, the second time around

Love is probably sweeter the second time around. But, alas, such is not true for martial law. So believes Bentad Pangcuga. More than a month has passed since President Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao. More than thirty days has passed since government bombs forced her fleeing from her hometown in Marawi City. She counted the days and the days passed by with snail pace.

Bentad was mulling undistracted of the crowd inside the evacuation center in Balo-I, Lanao del Norte. She has grown accustomed to the daily going-ons since she sought the refuge in the gymnasium last May 24, 2017 along with thousand others who fled Marawi City during the air strikes of the same day. She was used to visitors offering services, media personnel taking pictures and videos of their conditions and interviewers poking on their conditions. It is not that she doesn’t welcome visitors. In truth, she has grown tired of eating the same canned goods, noodles and rice for almost a month now. It also not that she was ungrateful. In her heart, she felt tired of martial law this time around.

When then President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972, Bentad was only a teenager. Her family then resided in Lumbia, Cagayan de Oro City. In her teen years, she should be in school finishing her college education. But, she found out how cruel martial law can be when one is a “Muslim”. She related how the “South” (referring to Mindanao) became a staging ground for Marcos’ all-out war targeting Muslims and Muslim communities without discrimination of civilians or armed combatants. The Muslim resistance proved resilient and the government armed forces responded with brutal force. Thousands of civilians were displaced.

A Muslim community in Lumbia, where Bentad used to live in her teen years, was not spared from militarization. Houses were indiscriminately strafed. Residents were rounded up, detained and interrogated like criminals without due process to confess as sympathizers or members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) or “Muslim rebels”. Bentad’s home was among those razed with bullets. Her testimony is filed among many others before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) being one of the victims of martial law. And her souvenirs of martial law, then, were her horrific recollections and her identification card issued by the CHR reminding her of those dark times.

 When President Duterte declared Martial Law on May 23 this year, Bentad was already aware of the consequent events that would transpire. She knew, the Muslims of Marawi City, would once again host an all-out war. She knew that civilians, like her, would be the most affected. ISIS-inspired groups, MNLFs, MILFs, and conspiracy theories were detached from her thoughts. But the raging conflict in her hometown that destroyed her homes and displaced her and thousands others opened old wounds that she thought had scarred, poking on the pain that she thought had healed. She wanted to go home. She wanted to eat home-cook meal and cook home-cook meal and have dinner with family. She wanted to sleep within the confines of her home, though she was poor and her home was humble.

For now, Bentad could only find comfort in her day dreams if she could still dream. For today, Mindanao was still under martial law. And for Bentad, martial law is far bitter the second time around. 

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Meet Bentad at the 2nd Wave of the National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission (NHIM) on July 26-29 in Iligan City. Want to know more about the NIHM? Please e-mail us at services@rmp-nmr.org