by Ben Rosario
Moscow, Russia – President Duterte on Tuesday declared he would be “harsh” in enforcing martial law in the entire Mindanao to deal with terrorism, warning that it will be similar to the Marcos regime setting.
“I was asked how I would deal with terrorism. I said I would be harsh,” Duterte stated during a video interview with the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) as he boarded a 10:30 p.m. (3:30 a.m., Philippine time) flight for his return trip to Manila Tuesday night.
Duterte warned that his brand of martial law will be the same as what the country experienced when it was declared in 1972 by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
“It would not be any different from what President Marcos did,” he stressed.
The President cut short his official visit to Russia after placing the entire Mindanao under martial law on account of the lawless violence and terrorism staged by the ISIS-influenced Maute Group in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur. At least two Army soldiers and a police officer have been killed, while 12 other security forces were wounded.
Before departing for the Philippines, President Duterte paid Russian President Vladimir Putin a hastily scheduled courtesy call at the Kremlin Grand Palace. The two leaders briefly discussed bilateral agreements, including a deal for the procurement by the Philippines of top-of-the line military equipment and supplies aimed at crushing terrorism in the South.
Duterte and Putin talked for about 15 minutes during the dialogue held two days ahead of the original schedule today (May 25).
“I am sad but what makes me happy is I was able to have a last-minute meeting with President Putin and I was able to communicate all the things I wanted to tell him,” the Filipino leader told Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, who is in charge of the PCO social media department.
Addressing Filipinos, Duterte told his constituents not to be “scared” at the events unfolding in the country.
“I am going home, I am cutting my visit here to be with my countrymen and I will deal with the problem once I arrive,” he said.
In resorting to martial law, Duterte said he had previously warned enemies of the state not to “force my hand into it.”
The former Davao City mayor stressed: “I have to do it to preserve the Republic of the Philippines and the Filipino people.”
In the wake of the martial law declaration, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) in Mindanao were placed on full alert.
But AFP Public Affairs Office (AFP-PAO) chief Marine Colonel Edgard Arevalo assured yesterday that the situation in Marawi City has been stabilized and security forces are in full control of the situation.
Despite this assurance, police forces in Mindanao are working closely with the military to seal off all possible escape routes of the members of the Maute Group, Chief Supt. Dionardo Carlos, PNP spokesman, said.
Police commanders in Mindanao were also ordered to intensify security measures in their respective areas of jurisdiction to prevent the spillover of the attacks in Marawi City.
Carlos said all unit commanders were directed to conduct checkpoints and chokepoints and secure all the vital installations, economic key points, and places of convergence.
“They were also tasked to ensure high state of operational readiness to thwart any hostile action that maybe launched by terror groups,” said Carlos.
Marawi City is the capital of Lanao del Sur, a province which shares a large boundary with Lanao del Norte and Bukidnon.
Supt. Lemuel Gonda, spokesman of the Northern Mindanao regional police, said they have been under the highest security alert status to ensure that no similar attacks would happen in any part of Northern Mindanao.
Yesterday, the PNP leadership also activated the Crisis Management Committee both at the regional and national level of the police in order to have a clear picture of what is happening on the ground.
“This is to monitor the situation and provide strategic direction to the security forces on the ground,” said Carlos.
In Cebu City, the local government and the local police are on alert following the attack in Marawi City, according to Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña.
In the Western Visayas, both the PNP and the AFP are also on full alert following the Marawi City attack.
Chief Supt. Cesar Hawthorne Binag, director of Police Regional Office-6 (PRO-6), said police forces in the region are in close coordination with the AFP.
Duterte’s decision to place the entire Mindanao under martial law drew mixed reactions.
Most senators expressed their support to President Duterte’s decision to declare martial law in Mindanao, but took turns calling on the military and police to ensure that the order won’t be abused, as they call for vigilance and solidarity against terrorism.
“Dapat lang walang (There should be no) abuses. But I think the AFP is professional enough to handle the situation that they would only go against peak targets only, and focus only on the root cause of the proclamation or the main reason, which is the Maute Group. By the way, we too do not want things to escalate because we know very well they have ties with the ISIS. They want to control territories like in Syria,” Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson said.
“While I am deeply concerned with such a declaration, I am also deeply disturbed by what is happening in Marawi. We must condemn any terroristic acts at all times. I will therefore await such a report and will vote accordingly as a member of Congress with only the best interests of our country and people in mind,” said Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our countrymen in the front lines and all the Filipino families tormented by these attacks. Under these severe circumstances, we respect the President’s decision to declare martial law, but will ensure that the constitutional process is followed,” Sen. Paolo “Bam” Aquino IV, a member of the Senate minority bloc, said.
“I support President Duterte’s decision to cut short his official visit to Russia in order to deal with this problem,” Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito said.
But Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Congress will look into the basis of Duterte’s declaration of martial law, as he urged the government to ensure protection of human rights of civilians during its imposition.
While Sen. Joel Villanueva understands why the situation in Marawi City calls for the declaration of martial law, he said that “much is needed to be discussed” on why the entire Mindanao was placed under military rule.
At the House of Representatives, supermajority members were quick to back the declaration of martial law over the entire Mindanao.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez defended yesterday the decision of President Duterte to place the entire Mindanao under martial law, saying that “terrorists are everywhere.”
“As a Mindanaoan, yes, I fully believe na talagang may basehan yung pagdeklara ng martial law (I fully believe that the declaration of martial law has basis),” he told reporters after attending China (Guangxi)-Philippines Business Matching Seminar for Entrepreneurs in Makati Shangri-La Hotel in Makati City.
“I am 100 percent sure that the people of Mindanao are behind President Duterte in his decision to declare martial law in the region. The attack in Marawi is a clear case of rebellion, and to preserve public safety in Mindanao and ensure that clashes do not spill over to other parts of the island and the Philippines, President Duterte was correct in placing Mindanao under martial law,” said Davao City 1st District Rep. Karlo Nograles.
“Yes, it’s justified and about time in order to supress the rebellion by these terrorist groups. They’ve been creating [a] negative image of Mindanao as well as sending scary messages to our businessmen in the region, both local and foreign,” Surigao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Robert Barbers said.
Sulu 2nd District Rep. Munir Arbison said the Marawi siege “is a wake-up call for the government to spare no holy cows in pulverizing and wiping out the ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) and the Maute Group who have already pledged loyalty [to] ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).
“The political will and the strong determination of the Chief Executive will bring us to peace and progress. He is only for the protection and preservation of the republic, nothing more. Let’s pray for the safety of our brothers and sisters in Marawi City and Mindanao and the immediate resolution of this crisis,” Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu said.
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, vice chairman of the House Committee on Defense, branded the President’s quick and decisive move as “a clear signal to all that the government is on top of the situation and is capable of – and determined – to protect the citizenry and businesses by stopping lawless elements from further spreading fear and violence in the South.”
But the Makabayan lawmakers called on President Duterte to lift the martial law declaration, especially with the military’s own pronouncement that the affected areas are now “under control.”
“We believed that the problem with the Maute Group can be handled by the police and the military if they only performed their jobs efficiently,” Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said.
Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao and ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio also denounced Mr. Duterte’s martial law proclamation.
“We strongly urge the President to immediately lift his declared martial law, as it would serve as license to systematic human rights violations, majorly against basic sectors in the island,” Casilao said in a statement.
Tinio expressed concern that such declaration paves the way for an intensification of war against the people of Mindanao, especially in Moro and lumad areas, and will lead to even more gross violations of human rights and civil liberties.
Meanwhile, most Catholic prelates opposed the declaration of martial law.
Ozamiz Archbishop Martin Jumoad said he is for the imposition of martial law provided “a mechanism has to be established so that no violation of human rights will be violated.”
Other prelates like Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes believe the declaration of martial law is not necessary, convinced in the capability of the Armed Forces in handling the situation.
“I do not think that it is necessary to declare martial law in the entire Mindanao just because of the situation in Marawi. I am not even in favor of declaring martial law exclusively in Marawi because I feel that the terroristic activities of the Maute Group and its related Abu Sayyaf and ISIS can still be controlled and demolished by our Armed Forces,” Bastes said.
“May martial law in Mindanao be short-lived and may it not spread to the Visayas and to Luzon. Let us plead God that we will not hear the news that ISIS is making trouble in Bohol or any part of the Visayas or in Quiapo or anywhere in Luzon to justify declaring martial rule all over the archipelago,” said retired Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said he does not know if such declaration is necessary for the whole of Mindanao. (With reports from Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos, Francis T. Wakefield, Aaron B. Recuenco, Hannah L. Torregoza, Mars W. Mosqueda Jr., Tara Yap, Elena L. Aben, Ellson A. Quismorio, Charissa L. Atienza, Roy C. Mabasa, and Leslie Ann G. Aquino)
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