Congress extends martial law in South

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CONGRESS, in a weekend joint session, granted President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2017.

Voting 261-18, senators and congressmen overwhelmingly approved the President’s request to extend the martial law imposition—clamped down on May 23—in the south hours before the earlier 60-day martial law proclamation lapsed Saturday night.

With the extension, the emergency would effectively be in force in Mindanao for 222 days, given the 162 days bump-out to the original 60 days.

The voting equation comprised 16-4 vote from senators, with opposition members led by Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Francis Pangilinan, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, and Risa Hontiveros voting against the martial law extension by five months; and 245 for and 14 vote from House members.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, speaking for his chamber after a seven-hour hearing, said: “As per the Constitution and the Rules of the Joint Session, the  Motion to Extend Martial Law and the suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus is approved by Congress.”

EMERGENCY EXTENDED. House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (right) bangs the gavel while Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III (left) wait for his turn (below) to open the joint special session Saturday of Congress which voted to extend President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2017. Ver Noveno/Manny Palmero

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel said 16 senators heeded the President’s appeal while only four rejected his call. 

During the interpellation, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon pressed   Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea for the “factual basis” for the President’s call on Congress to grant an extension of martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

He questioned the proposed extension of martial law in Mindanao until the end of the year, noting that the request has no factual basis.

At the special joint session of Congress, he said that nearly 400 of the 600 members of the ISIS-influenced rebel groups in Mindanao had been neutralized in only two months under martial law.

Drilon cited Duterte’s report attached to his letter requesting Congress to extend martial law as saying, “from May 23 to July 10, or less than two months into the declaration, the armed forces has already neutralized 379 out of 600 members of rebel groups.”

“The question is if we have neutralized 379 Maute or their sympathizers in less than two months, why do we need six more months, considering the time it took to neutralize more than half of the rebels, to defeat the remaining rebels?”

In response, Medialdea said the warfare being engaged by the rebel groups was known as an “urban warfare [which is] not an easy task running against these rebels,” adding six months was the recommendation of the military.

“I think it will be better to ask for a longer period than a certain period,” he added.

In a related development, some protesters, seated at the back of the plenary hall and identified as volunteer teachers and students from De la Salle University and the University of the Philippines, briefly disrupted the joint session.

They raised hand-painted signs and were heard repeatedly chanting “Never again, never again to martial law” and “Martial law sa Mindanao, ibasura” before security herded them out.

Drilon had strongly objected to the motion of Senator Gringo Honasan on the 150-day—erroneously counted since July, August, October and December have 31 days each—extension or until December 31 and sought out an amendment to shorten the add-on to only 60 days.

Drilon had earlier stressed that  illegal drug syndicates and “peace spoilers” were not part of rebel groups. 

He mentioned the Operational Directive of the Armed Forces Chief of Staff in recommending to the President an extension of martial law beyond the 60-day period.

 Drilon said the military’s OD showed that martial law should be extended to dismantle the New People’s Army, other terrorist groups, illegal drug syndicates and peace spoilers. 

On May 23, the President placed Marawi City under the martial rule after it was rampaged by members of the Maute terror group.

WAR ZONE. Marines prepare Saturday to fire 81mm mortars against Muslim militants’ positions at the frontline in beleaguered Marawi City, on the same day Congress overwhelmingly voted to extend martial law up to yearend. AFP

Drilon said the executive  branch had the burden of justifying that indeed rebellion continues to persist to warrant an extention of martial law and a continuation of the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

He insisted that mere presence or fear of “imminent danger” was not a ground to declare martial law or much more extend martial law. 

He said this danger had been deleted  in the 1987 Constitution which mandates that actual rebellion or invasion should be the basis for martial or its further extension. 

But Medialdea noted that drug syndicates and peace spoilers were “connectors” to the Maute terrorist group, giving them financial support from the illegal drug operations. 

He said there were indications they were helping the terrorist group which engaged government forces in heavy firefight in Marawi City.

He said since martial law was enforced in Marawi City two months ago, large volume of illegal drugs and huge amount of money were confiscated from the NPA and peace spoilers. 

Duterte first declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23 shortly after the gunmen, waving the black flags of the IS group, occupied parts of Marawi, triggering weeks of bloody fighting.

The Saturday vote was largely a foregone conclusion as Duterte enjoys majority in both houses of Congress.

But opposition lawmakers dragged out the debate, questioning why martial law was needed for the whole of Mindanao when the fighting was limited to only one city.

“I fear that the plan to extend the martial law in Mindanao will pave the way for a Philippines-wide martial law,” said Senator Risa Hontiveros ahead of the vote.

A slide presentation accompanying Duterte’s request, compared the Marawi crisis to the Islamic State takeover of the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Marawi itself could now become a magnet for foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, it said.

Most of the militants’ leaders remain at large, the presentation added, while about 90 of the gunmen have slipped past security cordons and can link up with other armed groups in the region to mount similar widescale attacks.

At the hearing, defense and security officials justified the extended martial law, saying that aside from Marawi, Islamist militants were planning attacks in other parts of Mindanao, the country’s second largest island after Luzon.

They said almost a thousand pro-IS militants, holding 23 hostages, were still active elsewhere in the south.

In Marawi, the military said only about 60 gunmen were left in a 49-hectare (121-acre) area of Marawi, but Duterte said he needed martial law powers to rebuild the city and ensure the war did not spread elsewhere.

“I cannot afford to be complacent,” Duterte told reporters Friday, adding the military would be conducting further “mopping up operations” even after they recapture Marawi.

“If there is a spillage it will not be as bad if you have this stopgap,” he added.

Drilon said: “We are one with the Filipino people in supporting the military’s efforts to neutralize the Maute extremists at the soonest possible time. With the facts presented to us, however, we are confident that our military will be successful in resolving the crisis  for a period of time shorter than the end of the year. 

“We also remain faithful to the Constitution in recommending that the extension will be limited only to the areas directly affected in Mindanao. 

“History will judge us on whether we fulfilled our mandate under the Constitution and acted in the interest of the people we represent.” 

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said martial law was an added tool “to our soldiers, to policemen. And if we are to arrest them [terrorists and rebels] immediately as fast as we could… if we are to impose curfew, we would appreciate if you arm us with what is provided by the powers of martial law.”

 Esperon rebuked Hontiveros when she inquired question on the civilian liberties the military took over since martial law was imposed.

He took it to mean that Hontiveros was implying that Duterte’s martial law was similar to the martial law imposed by President Ferdinand Marcos from September 1972 to January 1981—not 20 years as critics always want to count.

Esperon emphasized Duterte’s martial law was different because democratic institutions such as the courts, Congress, and local government units remain functional despite the martial rule in Mindanao.

“This is again looking back at another type of martial law. We have the local officials, they are still there, the courts are functioning. We have not suspended anybody there. They are helping us, we are helping each other. Congress is in session,” Esperon said. 

Sen. Francisco Pangilinan, also president of the minority Liberal Party, proposed that the Armed Forces and the Commission on Human Rights coordinate with human rights groups to submit regular reports on the human rights situation in the martial law-covered areas. 

Lorenzana agreed with the proposal. 

While she supported an extension of martial law, Senator Grace Poe vouched for a congressional monitoring mechanism on the ground from the military since they were the ones on the ground to give senators regular briefing, assessment on human rights and assessment on the situation of evacuees. 

She also asked the Commission on Human Rights for a statement when it comes to the assumption or the claim that there has been no human rights violations, to confirm the record that there are no human rights violations. 

An emotional Samira Mutoc, a native of Marawi City, and head of the Ranao Rescue team, spelled out what she claimed were the human rights abuses committed by soldiers on residents of the city. Her narrations were contrary to the pronouncements of military officials and the government.

Senator Cynthia Villar said she voted yes to show support to the country’s mostly young soldiers—100 of them died—to prevent the movement of terrorists to and from Marawi City.

Honasan, who moved for the approval of Duterte’s request on the part of the Senate, said the imposition of martial rule in the entire Mindanao was necessary “as fast and as far as the law will allow.” 

Honasan also said it would speed up the “painful task” of rehabilitation and reconstruction of strife-torn Marawi City.

“Is martial law the solution? There are potentials for abuse but the mechanisms for prevention are within our control. Martial law in Mindanao involved both risks and opportunities and we can manage both,” Honasan said.

Drilon frowned on the martial law extension.

On the part of the House, Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas sponsored Duterte’s request on martial law extension.

Militant lawmakers led by Reps. Edcel Lagman of Albay objected to it.

“What is happening in Marawi City is lawless violence amounting to terrorism, but not actual rebellion. The President and his subalterns failed to sufficiently show the element of culpable political purpose of the terrorist groups,” Lagman said in explaning his “no” vote. With AFP

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