Govt vows no disruption in Mindanao

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NATIONAL Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon on Saturday assured lawmakers that extending martial law in Mindanao until the end of the year would neither disrupt democratic processes even as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana maintained that a nationwide imposition of martial rule “will not happen.”

Defending President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to extend the period of the declaration until yearend, Esperon stressed that civil institutions would remain in place.

“The local officials are there, courts are functioning, we have not suspended anybody there. They are helping us. We are helping each other. Congress is in session. This is not the martial law that we had before,” Esperon told lawmakers who convened Saturday in a special joint session on the proposal to extend the martial law.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon

“The martial law that we have now is to protect the people of Mindanao,” he said.

The London-based Amnesty International, in a press statement, said the Philippine government must ensure that human rights were protected during its campaign against militants in Mindanao, as martial law remains in place.

“Ongoing martial law in Mindanao must not mean that human rights take a back seat at a time when people need crucial protections more than ever. The Philippines armed forces must show the utmost restraint to ensure that civilians are safeguarded during operations in Marawi,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Lawmakers should also take the lead in ensuring that the armed forces and state institutions are held accountable for their actions throughout the imposition of martial law, Gomez said.

Defense Secretary Deflin Lorenzana on Saturday said there is no need to expand martial law to cover Luzon and Visayas amid the possible escalation of offensives by the New People’s Army.

Meanwhile, Malacañang said the government should now return to work in bringing normalcy to Mindanao after Congress granted the extension of martial law in Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2017.

“Now that the debate is over, let us get on with the job of nation-building and contribute in the attainment of the full promise of Mindanao. There is much work to be done to bring back public safety and law and order in the whole island of Mindanao,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said. 

“There is much work to be done in the recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi.  Together, let us transform Mindanao into a land of fulfillment,” he added. 

On the 61st day of the prolonged crisis in Marawi City, the number of fatalities continues to rise after a total 578 people have died in the conflict.

Of the fatalities,  government troops account for 105 while 428 members of the ISIS-inspired Maute group have been killed. Civilians killed, meanwhile, remained at 45. 

Firearms recovered by the military now total 526 while the number of rescued civilians stood at 1,723.

In a separate statement, Abella insisted that it was Duterte’s duty to declare martial law in Mindanao to quell terrorism in the country.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who is administrator of martial law, stressed that military rule need not to be imposed in other parts of the country amid continued operations of the Abu Sayyaf attack in Bohol and the operations of the New People’s Army in Luzon.

Lorenzana stressed that despite the operational directives ordering the military to run after peace spoilers, such as the communist New People’s Army in other parts of the country, that was not necessary.

Lorenzana stressed the problems concerning the NPAs was being addressed with or without martial law.

Lorenzana stressed an extension was needed to give security forces “some leeway to finish our job within the period given” as he admitted there had been clashes in other parts of Mindanao which they had “overlooked” following the Marawi seige. 

“We still need the extension [of martial law] because we still have a lot of problems in Central Mindanao, Basilan, and Sulu. Because of what happened in Marawi, we kind of overlooked what is happening in Jolo because we redeployed our forces in [Marawi], Lanao del Sur,” Lorenzana told ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, who  questioned why the extension was still needed if government troops were able to neutralize 379 out of the 600 rebel fighters in Marawi City.

He likewise stressed that homegrown terrorists in Marawi were engaging in a “newly evolving” type of urban warfare, a challenge for government forces.

Armed Forces chief of staff Eduardo Año, meanwhile, admitted it was the military who specifically requested the extension of martial law in Mindanao until Dec. 31.

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