PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday made an unannounced visit to beleaguered Marawi City, finally fulfilling his promise to set foot in the conflict zone as fighting between government troops and Islamic State-linked terrorists continue.
Duterte, who tried going there twice but failed due to bad weather, finally made it after his helicopter landed at around 3 p.m. and posthaste received a briefing from military officials deployed in the area.
The media were informed of the visit after the President had already left for Davao City.
Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesperson of Joint Task Force Marawi, said Duterte, who expressed full support for government troops, arrived past noon and stayed around two to three hours to talk to soldiers and policemen in Marawi City.
He said security personnel in Marawi City were very happy with the President’s visit.
In his speech, Duterte was quoted as expressing gratitude for the heroism and sacrifices of the uniformed men and women who were in efforts to retake the besieged city despite the challenges.
As a sign of gratitude for their service, Duterte also handed out different items and goodies to troops.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. were among those who joined Duterte in his visit
In his July 18 letter to Congress leaders, Duterte warned of more attacks by Islamic State-inspired extremists in Mindanao in the coming days as he sought to justify an extension of martial law over the entire island.
Duterte said that extremist groups such as the Maute group, the Abu Sayyaf, Ansarul Khilafah Philippines and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, were still capable of violent attacks in Mindanao.
He added that the support structures of these groups in various parts of Mindanao and other areas have yet to be destroyed, as top leaders, Abu Sayyaf head Isnilon Hapilon, appointed as the “emir” in Southeast Asia and brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute and the foreign terrorist Mahmud bin Ahmad remain at large.
Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto urged the Palace Thursday to declassify and make public the intelligence reports it has used as basis for asking Congress to extend the period of martial law in Mindanao until the end of the year.
“What has been shared to 24 senators and almost 300 congressmen should be shared to the public as well. There’s no harm in such a disclosure, provided it has been purged of its sensitive contents,” Recto said.
Recto said documents and reports presented to them by national security officials “are not so revealing and explosive that they can only be discussed in whispers.”
“These closed-door briefings only add mystery. But in terms of content, it’s not that sensitive that you must take a vow of secrecy before hearing them,” Recto said.
He said “a release of curated information to the public” will help them decide whether an extension of martial law in Mindanao is justified.
Recto said public support for martial law must be “an informed choice, arrived at… freely through a study of facts, not fake news or alternative facts.”
“If terrorists are knocking on our doors, or if they’re already inside, then transparency is the best policy,” he said. “If not, the conspiracy theorists will have a field day and uncertainty is what terrorists want.”
Liberal Party president Senator Francis Pangilinan said there are many questions that the administration must answer during the joint session of Congress on Saturday to deliberate on President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to extend martial law until Dec. 31, 2017.
“Why does Mindanao need to be placed under martial law for five more months? What are the objectives? What powers does the President want to exercise during this period under martial law that is distinct from the powers granted to him by law and the Constitution?” Pangilinan said.
The President should also state what goals he hopes to reach during the extension period.
He urged his fellow lawmakers to speak up and be heard in assessing the wisdom of extending martial law.
Detained Senator Leila de Lima said she was dismayed that she will not be able to join the session Saturday, as the Supreme Court has yet to act on her request for a legislative furlough.
Detained on drug charges that she has denied, De Lima said she hopes the joint session will be an honest-to-goodness exercise in which Congress check the possible abuses of the martial law power of the President.
‘I hope to see my fellow legislators ask searching questions and play devil’s advocate—especially given the length of extension reportedly intended…which to me, off-hand, seems egregiously excessive,” she said.
De Lima warned against the dangers of “creeping authoritarianism.”
“Duterte is slowly weaning us away from constitutional democracy, towards his authoritarian designs for a perpetual martial law. This is the harsh reality all democratic forces must fight and oppose to the end, if we are to preserve freedom and democracy under this tyrant,” she said.
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