Marawi Siege: The Effects of Martial Law on the Diaspora of Marawi People

Oct 12, 2021  •  17 min read


This paper aims to give an overview of the effects of the declaration of Martial law by the current President Duterte on May 23, 2017, which resulted in the displacement of people from Marawi City. Included in this paper is the historical background on the city of Marawi and why Martial was declared in this area and the whole of Mindanao. Some of the effects discussed are the 1) disorganized evacuation, 2) health conditions, and; 3) human rights violations. A brief exploration on why Martial law is not the solution for the crisis in Mindanao is also added.


The nationwide declaration of Martial Law in 1972 by the late President Marcos, supposedly as an answer to the growing insurgence of the leftist and militant group MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), has resulted in the loss of many lives and thousands of cases of human rights violations such as kidnapping, disappearance, and extra-judicial killings. For many Filipinos who have lived and survived those years, it is one of the Philippine history’s Dark Age that they wish to never witness again.

However, after more than 30 years, the same declaration that put danger in the lives of many citizens and that has effects still visible until the present day was declared by President Rodrigo Duterte on the night of May 23, 2017. The said declaration happened a few hours after the militant and extremist group Maute sieged Marawi City by burning city jails and churches, raiding banks, and taking some Christians as their hostages (“Islamists Besiege Marawi”, 2017).

Upon the declaration, AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) were mobilized to counterattack the enemy’s force in the city. Within the following days, aeroplanes would start bombing the whole city making sure to crush every site suspected to be the hiding places of the terrorist group members.

Despite strong opposition from the Left parties and protesters, President Duterte proceeded with the declaration of Martial law not just in Marawi City but in the whole Island of Mindanao even prolonging its original effectiveness of 60 days to one year, noting that it is for the recovery of the affected area and to fully “crush insurgency” (“Martial Law Extension”, BBC, 2017).

In the background of all this chaos are the thousands of Marawi residents who are forced to leave their homes and their livelihood in order to take refuge from the war. Without a proper response from the government, many evacuees are suffering from many problems starting from the lack of enough centres that could cater to the population of the displaced residents of Marawi. This, in turn, leads to a number of other problems that are perceived to grow and worsen due to the extension of the declaration.

Historical Background

Marawi City

Despite having a land area of 87.5 sq. km –one of the smallest cities of the province — Marawi City is one of the densest cities in the Province of Lanao del Sur of the island Mindanao. Based on a census by the Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA) in 2000, it has an estimated registered population of 131, 090. On the other hand, Lanao del Sur holds the most number population in the whole Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao or more commonly known as ARMM (2002).

Mainly home to the Maranao tribe who are following the ways of Sunni, Marawi is still a place where Christians and Muslims live harmoniously with each other, evident in the existence of a number of churches and other Christian workers in the area.

Marawi houses only 152 schools but is where 15.7% of students in the whole province are coming from, said to be mostly comprised of high school and elementary students (Marawi Quick Stats, 2017)

Maute Group

The Maute group is one of the four major Islamic extremist groups in the Philippines. It is believed that Maute and the other remaining groups are simply just remnants of the extremist (De Silva, 2017) forces prevalent during the time of the late President Marcos who, as an answer to the insurgence, declared Martial Law in 1972 (Official Gazette of the Philippines, n.d.).

The creation of the Maute Group in 2012 was spearheaded by the brothers Abdullah and Omarkhayan Romito Maute, originally referring to themselves as Daulat UL Islamiyah then changing to Islamic State-Ranao or IS-Ranao. Before referring to themselves as an independent group, they were used to be identified as members of MILF, evident in their relation to the late MILF Vice Chairperson’s wife who happened to be their aunt (De Silva, 2017). At present, the Maute Group has no control on the then-major MILF Camp but is said to be, however, not shared anymore with MILF forces (De Silva, 2017) because of ongoing clashes (Unson, 2017).

The Maute Group gain their notoriety because of their claimed bombings in many public places which led to the loss of many lives. At the same time, the group is also suspected of bombing the US Embassy last year (Hincks, 2016).

The Maute Group became more aggressive in 2016 when they started identifying themselves as part of the network ISIS, by then changing their name to ISIS Ranao and showed their ferocity when they beheaded two workers after the family of the latter failed to give the ransom money (“Maute Beheads Workers”, 2016). The video of the execution was then published by the group and where they proudly raised the ISIS flag showing their adherence to the beliefs of ISIS and showing the people their supposed affiliation with the Middle Eastern extremists.

It should be noted however that the Maute Group still hasn’t received any confirmation from ISIS, which is said to be a prerequisite in order to be considered as a network in the Philippines (Billiones, 2017).

Martial Law under PD 216

Through the Presidential Decree (PD) 216, the Martial Law in the Philippines took effect on May 23, 2017, at 10 pm (Hanna & McKirdy, 2017). The said declaration was brought into action after the failed arrest of the Jihadist leader Isnilon Hapilon (“A Total Failure”, 2017). Furthermore, it was said to be based on earlier reports from the intelligence unit of the government regarding a growing rebellion in the Islamic city, hence the attempt to capture the said leader.

Basing on the 1987 Philippine Constitution, martial law “can only be legally declared when there is a rebellion or invasion” and “when public safety requires it” (De Silva, 2017).  With this, it is clear that ample factual reports and reliable information should be the basis for the declaration which include but is not limited to the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, and therefore should not be used, in any way, as a precautionary measure to avoid a preconceived or foreseen uprising or rebellion.

De Silva also stated that in order for a rebellion to be considered as such, it “should have a political agenda” and must be “supported by a portion” of the population (2017). In the case of Marawi, the insurgence was brought by an outside force, the Maute Group, which adheres to the strong Taliban style of ideology—something that the people of Marawi, who are Sunnis, would never follow as they find them primitive (Unson, 2017).

Whether there are enough reasons and grounds why Martial Law was declared in the whole island by the President, a few hours after the botched arrest and the siege of Marawi by the Maute group, is still a question to be answered and an issue those who are against Martial law have been raising since day one.


The Effects of Martial Law in the Philippines

Disorganized Evacuation

One of the obvious problems brought by Martial Law is the disorganized displacement of the people of Marawi.  It should be noted that the declaration, as stated in the Philippine constitution, should be based on sufficient grounds of insurgence. If this is the case, the declaration must have been already on draft and under consideration even before the Maute Group sieged Marawi, therefore, civilians should at the very least had been informed and had been given enough preparation to reduce the risk that the war against the said terrorists was posing.

In a news report by Billones (May 30, 2017), however, the police and military forces in Marawi city were on their regular and usual workdays, most are even on their vacation, during the early stages of the Marawi takeover, leaving the Marawi people in panic evacuating the city; while some because of the lack of proper advice, chose to stay at home and were trapped in the middle of bombings and exchanges of fire between the government and extremists group.

The displacement brought burden to the many residents who were forced to leave Marawi that day, which according to the report presented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), only 5% of the total number of evacuees are catered in the centre while 95% of them reported in migrating to nearby cities and stay in their relatives’ houses (2017).

Despite the pre-siege events that happened in Marawi such as the raiding of the city jail where several Maute members were imprisoned (Umel, 2016) and intelligence information from the residents of the planned attack of the extremist group, no action has been done from the side of the government to tighten the security as a preemptive step nor to address the problem and rethink new plans after the said attack (De Silva, 2017).

On the other hand, President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that the residents of Marawi failed to inform the authorities of the planned attack, insinuating the Marawi residents adherence to the extremist group (Corales, 2017). This would then become the basis of the President on expanding the law to all the 27 provinces and 33 cities in Mindanao (Arguillas, 2017)

If previous and concerning intelligence reports of an uprising has been the reason for the declaration, an organized evacuation of the Marawi people should have had happened. Contrary, thousands are left behind and trapped on the battlefield (“Still Trapped in Marawi”, 2017).


Along with the disorganized evacuation follows a number of health problems encountered by the Marawi evacuees cramped in the centres. People have been reported of incurring sicknesses such as diarrhea, skin diseases, and even mental health problems brought by the trauma of war.

It should be taken into account that the declaration of Martial Law happened to be on the month of Ramadan where Muslims are exercising fasting. This made them more susceptible to sickness amplified by the worse condition in the evacuation centres.

In the beginning, of the reported 218,551 displaced residents only 20,000 were found sheltered in the 68 available evacuation centres and on which health officials were putting their focus (Arguelles, Salaveria, & Fernandez, 2017). The alarming number of other people outside the evacuation centres and unaccounted for raises concern to the health officials.

Though believed to be of a higher rate, only 59 deaths because of illness were reported. Most of the cases were due to dehydration while some were the previous sicknesses amplified by the conditions in the evacuation centres (Arguelles, Salaveria, & Fernandez, 2017).

It is also reported that data from the Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO) showed that 30, 732 evacuees have been showing signs of mental disorders leading local officials to declare a “mental health crisis” among the displaced people (Gagalac, 2017).

The continuous bombing and airstrikes in the area of Marawi and the tension brought by the Martial Law declaration have also affected the delivery of provisions and medicines to the displaced people in different evacuation centres. It was reported that an aid convoy was also not allowed to enter Marawi (“Aid Not Allowed to Enter”, 2017)

Human Rights Violations

The declaration of Martial Law has led to a number of human rights violations most of which are believed to be undocumented and unaccounted for. In a report by CNN Philippines, a different rights groups and Muslim people raised instances on how the state forces are subjecting some evacuees to abuses and some to torture in order to coerce them to confess as members of the enemies which in turn will serve as a good rationale for the prolonged martial law (Tan, 2017). Among the cases cited is the disappearance of 18-year-old Sakraman Decampong and a 15-year-old boy called Eman.

In a press conference with the human rights leader Rose Trajano, it is revealed that most human rights violations remained unaccounted for because of the Mindanao’s people’s culture of being unforthcoming of the said issue due to “shame and fear of retaliation” (Gamil, 2017). It should also be considered that most of these people are still under the notion of the 1972 Philippine Martial Law where human rights victims are yet to achieve justice and compensation.

The President’s declaration of Martial law on the whole island of Mindanao upon insinuating that the Mindanaoans support the extremist group has only led to more abuses, discriminations, and human rights violations on the island of which the majority of the people are Muslims.

Among these discriminations are the proposed ID system for Muslims (Holmes, 2017) automatic checkpoints for Muslim people (Bruer, 2017) and farmers not being able to exercise their rights of ownership on their lands in the fear of being accused as a supporter of the rebellion (Gamil, 2017)

Despite being away from the centre of the battlefield that is Marawi, 37 Lumad schools “were forcibly closed down” upon the declaration of martial law after being accused as sympathizers of the leftist group, New People’s Army (NPA). This event has affected more than 3,000 indigenous people who are attending the schools (“30 Lumad Schools Closed”, 2017)

Submitted reports of human rights groups revealed “68 victims of political killings, 842 victims of illegal arrests, at least 416,000 displaced individuals, and 357,659 victims of indiscriminate gunfire and airstrikes” in different places in Mindanao since the start of Martial law (Nonato, 2017)


The different effects brought by the declaration of Martial law can be attributed to the lack of planning from the government before its implementation on May 23, 2017, a few hours after the Maute group’s siege in the city. Whether there was really enough evidence to the said uprising or not and enough grounds to declare martial law—as it is stipulated in the constitution that it cannot be used as a preventive action– it is clear that the people of Marawi suffered all the grave consequences when they were immediately forced to evacuate the city.

The abrupt declaration which covered the whole of Mindanao and called for the immediate takeover of the military forces in Marawi to push back the enemies ensued the disorderly evacuation of the residents. This resulted in the diaspora of the people, the majority of which moved to private shelters of relatives and took refuge to other neighbouring cities. Only a few percentages of the thousands of people were able to be catered to by the evacuation centres.

The other effects are merely sub-effects of the initial abrupt displacement such as the concerns in health which are, but are not limited to, physical and psychological health of the evacuees. However, the tension brought by the declaration of Martial Law in the whole island affected and slowed down the movement of aids and provision aggravating the health conditions of the people waiting in the evacuation centres with some even resulting in death.

The most pressing issue on hand, however, is the alleged subjection of most refugees and evacuees to human rights violation that has resulted from the abuse of the military on the power bestowed on them under the Martial Law declaration. The President’s insinuation of the people of Mindanao as sympathizers of Islamic extremist groups (despite the fact that Marawi people are Sunnis and don’t follow Shariah’s law being advocated by the extremist group) brought discrimination to the Muslim people and has affected the livelihood of many residents.

Clearly, a purely military approach, like Martial law, is not the best answer to a more complex issue such as those Islamic extremist groups. These groups are not only militant but an advocate of a bigger political movement based on their adherence to their beliefs and religion.


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