‘161 days more for martial law’

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PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte asked Congress Tuesday to extend martial law in Mindanao to Dec. 31 or a period of five months because the rebellion there cannot be quelled by the time military rule expires on July 22.

“I have come to the conclusion that the existing rebellion in Mindanao, which has prompted me to issue [the martial law proclamation], will not be quelled completely by 22nd July 2017,” Duterte said in his letter to Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

“[B]ecause public safety requires it, I call upon the Congress to extend until 31st of December 2017, or for such a period of time as the Congress may determine, the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao,” he added.

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte asked an extension until the end of the year to allow government troops to deal with the crisis “unhampered by deadlines.”

Duterte, who placed the entire island of Mindanao under martial law on May 23 after Islamist extremists laid siege in Marawi City, is set to call Congress for a special session on Saturday, July 22 to consider his proposal to extend martial law in Mindanao.

Duterte will also face both chambers of Congress on July 24, or two days after his second State of the Nation Address.

TRIGGER READY. President Duterte  holds a .45 caliber handgun, one of 3,000 units handed over during a ceremonial yield to the military at Malacañang on Tuesday. The President has announced plans to extend martial law in Mindanao to defeat Islamist militants who have seized Marawi City, as critics warned the Philippines could be edging towards a dictatorship. AFP

Under the Constitution, only Congress can revoke or extend any declaration of martial law while review powers are with the Supreme Court.

In his meeting with congressional leaders late Monday night, Duterte explained the need to extend martial law, but left them with an assurance that he wanted it extended for only 60 more days, or until September.

Speaking to Palace reporters, Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año said that the five-month extension will allow security forces to finish all looming threats clouding Mindanao.

“It’s enough for us to do our job and finish this job,” Año said. “We can thoroughly address threats if martial law is in place, because of the features which are helping us right now.”

The military and police earlier submitted their assessment of martial law’s implementation to Defense Secretary and martial law administrator Delfin Lorenzana, who submitted the recommendations to Duterte.

Año said extremist threat in Mindanao from extremist groups such as the Maute group and the Abu Sayyaf, was significant despite the ongoing offensives against them.

He estimated that fighting in Marawi had cut the number of IS-affiliated terrorists from 1,200 to about 800, but said this was still a sizable number.

Año also said the terrorists were using cash rewards to entice others to join their cause.

PRESIDENTIAL DINNER. President Duterte talks to some members of the House of Representatives and the Senate Tuesday in this photo handed out by the Presidential Photo Office but gave no details on what the President discussed. Presidential Photo

“Normalizing” the situation in Mindanao would involve more than the liberation of Marawi, but include crushing other groups and sources fueling the rebellion and terrorism in Mindanao, Año said.

“If we look at it, their forces are still there … they were still able to launch attacks and this is far from over. We need to fix this once and for all,” he added.

Duterte, in previous speeches, said that if he declares martial law, it would resolve all threats emanating in Mindanao.

Top IS leaders in the country, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute are still alive and hiding somewhere in Marawi, Año said.

The extension of martial law would also address threats coming from communist rebels, which recently called for intensified attacks against government forces.

Rep. Edcel Lagman, who had filed a petition against martial law with the Supreme Court, said the extension of martial law would be “several steps back” for democracy.

“That would indicate the possibility of extending the coverage of martial law outside Mindanao,” Lagman said.

Lagman also warned of a potential repeat of the military abuses and political repression during the martial law regime of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose 20-year rule ended with a bloodless popular revolt in 1986.

Opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan said martial rule was an “extraordinary and temporary measure” and that any extension could not be more than 60 days.

Duterte should consider limiting martial law to the Muslim regions of Mindanao, he added.

Both Pangilinan and former President Fidel Ramos, a Duterte supporter who has become critical of the administration, warned that extended martial rule may scare off investments.

“Martial law was necessary in the beginning but any extension should now be considered very carefully,” Ramos told reporters.

Security forces have been conducting a US-backed offensive to root out the gunmen, using airstrikes and artillery fire, and early this week the military said about 60-80 gunmen remained over a one- square kilometer area of downtown Marawi.

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