Is Martial Law necessary in Mindanao ? – A real story of Sherry’s family

The article was initially written in Chinese, original source please see: 菲律賓真的需要戒嚴?來自民答那峨的她這樣說……

Article: Wendy Chang
English Translation: Wendy Chang, Analeigh Yao

Coming from the Philippines, there is something different between Sherry and her fellow Filipino. When she first arrived in Taiwan, she was a caretaker. As a Muslim, she was asked to cut pork by her employer, which was against her religion. A Taiwanese guy who was full of sense of justice helped her get out of the dire working condition. And then, like all the stories about heroes who rescued beauties, they fell in love and got married in the end. Along with her husband who is an activist, Sherry also followed her loved one and became a full-time activist who fights for the right for the Filipino migrant workers in Taiwan.

Another reason that makes her special from her fellow Filipino is that, most Filipino workers in Taiwan are either from Luzon or Visayas, however, she is one of the few people who come from Mindanao. It was the place where few months ago the terrorist attack taken place in Marawi City and led to the declaration of Martial Law. President Duterte even threatened his people to implement Martial Law in the whole country. For Sherry and her family, they think it would never be the solution in eliminating terrorists on the island, and would even bring in more negative effect.


A Displaced Journey

Sherry was born in General Santos City located along the southeast coast of Mindanao, which takes 8 hours of travel from Marawi city. One of her aunt lives there in Marawi. When the attack broke out, Sherry could not help but worrying about her aunt and her family.

Photos of the ISIS black flag hung by the Maute group who launched the invasion in Marawi were shared and broadly spread on social networks. It is said that if the Muslim men who were captured refused to join them, they would be immediately executed.

On the same day of the attack, President Duterte declared Martial Law directly without any hesitation. And the military troops formed by Armed Forces of the Philippines were soon organized within three days, and blocked the whole city of Marawi to set off their war on terrorist groups.

There are more than 10 people in Sherry’s aunt family. The youngest child is only one-year-old. Out of fear and danger, the family had no choice but to evacuate their hometown, leaving behind all treasures of their lives. They were safe, but nothing remained.

It had been very difficult for Sherry to contact her aunt since they were busy on the way of escaping the threat. Even when they finally got in touch, on the other side of the phone, Sherry could still hear the voice of the soldiers at checkpoints clearly.

Checkpoints were everywhere, and that got in their way constantly, according to her aunt. After thousands of miles, they are now temporarily residing in Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro.

The picture of Sherry’s family, half of her relatives are Muslims. (Photo source: Sherry)


Why Martial law should cover the whole Mindanao?

Although the terrorist attack forced them to flee from their homeland, giving away everything they had, her aunt was still against the declaration of Martial law. According to Sherry, the curfew is imposed from 9 p.m to 5 a.m, which stops the local Muslims from their daily prayer in the mosque.

“I was really angry and disappointed when I heard the news that Martial law was declared,” Sherry said with tears rolling in the eyes. For people who knows about her, the scene of her talking about the plight of migrant workers would surely be unforgettable. She is just like a crybaby. However, when it comes to the unjust in her country, she would soon turn into a critical person with sharp analysis.

Sherry was born after the martial law was lifted. However, she grew up in the family that praised highly of the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. It was only when she started to dig out the stories and researches from those dark days that she was able to know the unhidden truth and all kinds of human rights violations. And as time went by, more and more stories were uncovered in front of her eyes.

“Though Marawi is in danger, it doesn’t mean the President should declare Martial law in the whole Mindanao,” said Sherry. And for the worse, while the Armed Forces of the Philippines ordered aerial bombings to wipe out the enemy, the innocent and armless residents— including her aunt and many other households— were only able to pray. That was the only thing they could do. After all, they had nowhere else to go. The city and their houses were devastated and gone.

Two weeks after the terrorist attack, this war has taken away the lives of 22 citizens, had 60 people disappeared and forced 230 thousand people to flee from their land. The air strike even expanded to North Cotabato and Bukidnon province, which forced more and more people to evacuate. Given the reportages from the war zone, the decisions and military actions by the government remained questionable.

The street scene of Marawi City after war. (Photo source: Sherry)


Coming from Mindanao, a land with complex blood

“Mindanao is the poorest among the three main islands of the country. The rich are mostly in the north, and they even control the resource in the south.” This is how Sherry introduced her hometown. For a long time, Mindanao has been a place with complex ethnic conflicts.

Long time ago, Muslims were used to be the majority of Mindanao. But after the Spanish came, the number of the Catholic started to boom. With more and more Catholic migrating from the north to the south, Muslims then soon became the minority on the island. As a Muslim born in the multi-faith family, the misunderstanding and disharmony between Catholics and Muslims have never been absent in Sherry’s family since childhood.

Sherry’s Father is a Maguindanaon, who belongs to the Moro ethnic group, while her Mother is a typical Catholic who migrated from Leyte, Visayas, the central part of the Philippines. The relatives on her Father’s side speak traditional Maguindanaon language, and in converse, the relatives on her mother’s speak Bisayan, which is ubiquitous in Mindanao. Although Sherry was born as a Muslim, she is more familiar with the Catholic culture of her mother. For her, sometimes it was very struggling to get along with the families on both sides.

Recalling the time of her adolescence, she was taken care by her aunt since her Mother was working in other city.  Due to her Moro descent, one of her uncle would mock her and her younger brother with discrimination. “Look! Here comes the ‘Muklo’,” he said in a sarcastic way. And sometimes, without any reason, he would curse them, or even split on their faces. For a girl at that young age, she did not know how to react but only keep the tears to herself silently.

It was until his uncle passed away that Sherry found out his past and the reason why he had been holding such hostile attitude toward the Muslims. The fact was that her Catholic uncle had tried to make a living in a Muslim community, however, he was not welcomed and driven away by the locals. This left him a bad impression on the Muslims for the rest of his life.

When they were with the Muslim relatives of her father’s, she and her brother were looked down on “not being not pure enough”. Even after her father passed away, they did not take care for his children as they promised, but kept contending for his heritage. Furthermore, her mother was asked to serve her husband’s deft. Because of these conflicts, Sherry was forced to suspend her study in high school.

The floundering experience did not easily fade away after they grew up. With the hope of finding a better job, Sherry and her brother decided to move to Manila. However, some companies turned them down immediately when they saw their religion on their resume. All these invisible discrimination in workplaces and the lack of job vacancies then gradually paved the way for her journey as a migrant worker in Taiwan.

Looking back, her current living in Taiwan has been the most unexpected.


My only hope

After the terrorist attack and the declaration of Martial law, what made Sherry the most disappointed was that Duterte still hold great support among the OFWs community. Every time she and her husband post something about him in a critical manner, many people would pop up and leave comments like: “Thanks for your concern, but you are not Filipino, you don’t understand what we’ve experienced,” or “Have faith in Digong, Martial Law will bring peace to the country.”

For Sherry, she did agree that Duterte has done something good for the country, but she would not support him anymore given his unexpectable and presumptuous way of governing. For instance, he once said to the public, “If a soldier raped women during Martial law period, it’s on me.” “How would people judge the joke, if this does happen in the reality?” she said with frown.

After the intense battle in Marawi for 5 months, the government finally declared the liberation of Marawi city in October 2017. However, the biggest challenge comes after the war – reconstruction and recovery of the city, is waiting for the locals in the future. As the media report indicates the supply is no longer enough for all the residents now.

And many people lost their houses and savings, they don’t have land titles to prove the ownership of the house, and the rehabilitation is not even free for them. Thus, Sherry urges people to keep paying attention on the issue, even if we can’t assist the victims in the frontline. We should keep the eyes on the government who promises to let all the residents go home, and give the money directly to the people, satisfy their needs, instead of making another scandal of corruption.

Sherry, a former migrant worker and a current activist & new immigrant in Taiwan. (Photo source: Sherry)