Martial Law would have been imposed in the entire province of Sulu after the “twin bombings” that happened on August 24. But due to the clamor of the people, the local government, civil society and human rights groups, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and even legislators, Philippine Army Chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana withdrew his recommendation for it. Fifteen people were killed in the bombings including soldiers, policemen and civilians, with 75 others injured. Even President Rodrigo Duterte avoided mentioning aobut Martial Law during his visit in Jolo on August 30.

Putting the entire province of Sulu under Martial Law is like punishing the whole population for the crimes committed by “suicide bombers” allegedly responsible for the attack. It only exposes the weakness or lapses of the government’s security forces in their intelligence work and apprehending the perpetrators, be it the Abu Sayyaf Group or other ISIS-influenced groups. There should be a deep and thorough investigation on the August 24 Sulu bombings since no terrorist group claimed responsibility for the crime.

The people of Sulu are skeptical of the suicide bomber theory and offered many angles behind the bombing which include vendetta between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the area; revenge killings for relatives that were killed in military operations; and other political agenda.

We should also take into account that the bombings in Sulu happened simultaneously with other issues: the confirmation of army officials appointed by President Duterte at the Senate, the launching of a movement calling for a “revolutionary government”; and the submission of an ASG leader and some members to Professor Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). In addition, people are criticizing President Duterte for not seriously resolving corruption in government and for being inutile in flattening the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is not the first time that an explosion happened in Sulu or in the Bangsamoro region of Mindanao in the midst of a big political issue or display of the government’s “kapalpakan”. To use “bombings” to justify the implementation of anti-people measures like the Anti-Terror Law and Martial Law is nothing new. Mysterious bombings in Mindanao during the previous decade have opened investigations that led to the culpability of military officials which served the agenda of anti-terror campaigns which included deployment of US and other foreign soldiers and spies in Mindanao.

We condemn the bombing which was done in a commercial area that destroyed and endangered the lives of civilians. But, we must understand that there’s a context why the soldiers were targeted. There is an ongoing war in Sulu, and, most of the time, military operations in Sulu have resulted in injustices which include killings of civilians and passing them off as “collateral damage” or even accusing them of conniving with the Abu Sayyaf. President Duterte’s quick condemnation of the killing of soldiers while keeping silent or brushing off of reports of civilian casualties due to military attacks help perpetuate that injustice.

Remember the Patikul 7 Massacre? On September 14, 2018, seven famers, aged 18 to 32, were killed by elements of the Scout Rangers in Baranggay Kabuntakas in Patikul, Sulu. They were given permission by the military to harvest mangosteen in their farmland in Sitio Tubig Bato in Kabuntakas. Relatives said they were still able to call to inform them that they were apprehended by military troops. Hours later, the remains of the seven farmers were presented to the local police and were declared as Abu Sayyaf members.

Their brutal deaths fueled loud protests from the people of Sulu and other civil society groups in the country. The Commission on Human Rights was compelled to investigate the incident. The AFP, however, stood firm in their accusations that the farmers were members of the ASG and were killed in an encounter.

In light of issues of “transnational terrorism and suicide bombers”, the media need to understand the nature of conflict in Sulu. One Tausug human rights advocate pointed out that because of the government’s failure to hold the military responsible for human rights violations, the people are compelled to seek justice by their own means. However, due to the military’s and media’s obsession over transnational terrorism and imported suicide bombers, they neglect to expound on the nature of conflict in Sulu and the rest of the country.

The people of Sulu and Bangsamoro areas have been fighting decades of repression due to historical injustice and violations of their civil and political rights now aggravated by the government’s recent anti-terror campaign. Just like the Maranaws in Marawi City and Lanao del Sur, as well as the Maguindanaoans in Central Mindanao, the Tausug people living in these areas are accused of being terrorists and have suffered from military airstrikes since President Duterte declared an all-out war against extremists in 2016.

In pursuit of the Maute group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and ISIS-influenced groups, civilians have been displaced, killed, and made to suffer, while their communities are destroyed, yet state forces still couldn’t catch the real terrorists. With all the budget allocated for intelligence, high tech surveillance, and deployment of troops ( including US soldiers), the government has yet to explain how a small group of terrorists can survive three decades of military offensives.

While military officials continue to accuse local government officials and the police of conniving with the ASG due to family and clan relations, we must not forget that reports of AFP-ASG collusions have surfaced since the leadership of Abu Sabaya and Khadaffy Janjalani in the 2000s. In Sulu today, stories of ongoing underground arm sales between the AFP and the ASG is no false news.

The fixation of the media and military on their interpretation of Islam and the concept of suicide bombers being rewarded with 77 virgins as motivation for the killing does not help explain the situation and muddles the issue. . Simply linking the incident to Muslim-Christian conflict is discriminatory and helps spread Islamophobia and drowns the real issue behind the bombing.

On the other hand, our Tausug brothers and sisters should be “critical” to calls for local nationalism in the form of rallying the Tausugs against the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). I know it hurts to hear Chief Minister Ahod “Kagi Murad” Ebrahim immediately agreeing with the military instead of listening to what the people of Sulu have to say about the bombing and the Martial Law recommendation. But it will not help the people of Sulu to antagonize the rest of their Bangsamoro brothers and sisters who have rallied for their cause. This ethnocentric attitude only serves a certain agenda which may result in the isolation of the Tausugs from other oppressed people in the country and to those sympathetic to our struggle for justice and peace. (

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