PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte needs to seek once again the approval of Congress if he wants to extend martial law in Mindanao, which will end on December 31, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Sunday.
Drilon said the Constitution requires that a request for extension of martial law must be formally sent by the President to both the Senate and the House of Representatives, which have the authority to grant it.
A request for extension should be made before the end of the martial declaration on December 31, he said.
“Let us decide on the basis of the evidence presented,” Drilon said in an interview aired over dzBB.
Duterte placed the entire Mindanao island group under martial law on May 23 after the Islamic State (IS)-linked Maute group attacked and occupied Marawi City.
Under the Constitution, the President may declare martial law for a period not exceeding 60 days in case of “invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it.”
The Constitution also states that Congress “upon the initiative of the President” could “extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.”
Congress in a special joint session in July granted the President’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao until the end of 2017.
Malacañang said on Saturday it accepted the recommendation of the military on the possible extension of martial law in Mindanao, but President Rodrigo Duterte would still have the final say.
Drilon said Congress would need to hear a justification for the extension, since the military had declared the crisis in Marawi over.
“They said that the problem there (Marawi) is over and then they want to extend (martial law) again,” Drilon said.
Security cluster to recommend
On Sunday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said the extension of martial law in Mindanao would depend on the assessment of the National Security Council and the government security cluster.
Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., the AFP spokesman, said recommendations to be submitted to President Duterte would be the result of a “thorough assessment” by the security cluster.
“Out main objective is to degrade or totally eliminate the ability of terrorists and their networks so that they [would]no longer pose as serious threats to our national security,” Padilla said in a statement.
On Friday, Padilla said the military was considering extending martial law, citing the presence of terrorist groups and lawless elements in Mindanao.
Duterte later on Friday said he would accept any recommendation coming from the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP), noting government forces were the ones engaged with lawless groups in Mindanao.
Eliminating terrorist groups is among the “top priorities” of the new AFP chief, Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, Padilla said.
Upon assuming his post last month, Guerrero committed to eradicate terrorist groups in Mindanao including the Abu Sayyaf Group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and even the communist-linked New People’s Army.
BIFF in league with foreign terrorists?
Last week, the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division launched aerial and artillery attacks on a BIFF camp based in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, based on a tip from residents.
The 6th Infantry Division was “positive” there were foreign-looking fighters alongside the BIFF, he said.
“We are not sure [if these came from Marawi]but for sure, these are different. They may be any nationality that’s why there’s a need to check further,” Padilla told reporters.
Capt. Arvin Encinas, spokesman of the 6th Infantry Division, said there were no engagements so far and only air and artillery fire missions were ongoing in the areas of Maguindanao and North Cotabato.
He said aerial operations in North Cotabato were launched last Friday, targeting the group of Abu Turiape.
Encinas said clearing operations were ongoing in the two provinces of Mindanao, reiterating that there were no actual firefights on the ground between military forces and the BIFF.
Last Wednesday, the military initiated attacks following reports from residents in Maguindanao.
Encinas said the BIFF base was reportedly located on the boundary of two villages in Shariff Aguak.
with DEMPSEY REYES