PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s proposal to extend martial law in Mindanao and suspend the privilege of habeas corpus for five months will be readily approved by Congress, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao del Norte predicted on Tuesday.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd also said Congress was likely to grant not only the request for the extension of martial law but also the President’s “preferred period.”
“The person who declared martial law asks for an extension and he has a preferred period so would we not put weight on the period requested?” Pimentel said.
The House and the Senate will convene in a special joint session on Saturday, July 22, to decide on President Duterte’s request, with the military still unable to wipe out Maute group terrorists holed up in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
“I would say it would be smooth sailing. We have seen surveys, and the public approves of the declaration of martial law in Mindanao. It means the people recognize the depth of the problem,” Alvarez said in a radio interview.
“We also need to consider that while clashes in Marawi have de-escalated, it doesn’t mean that the problem is solved. They could retaliate, and people in and out of Mindanao share that fear of retaliation,” he added.
Under the Constitution, the President can declare martial law for 60 days in case of rebellion, invasion or when public safety requires it. The Constitution also provides that the President can ask Congress for an extension of the martial law declaration.
The President declared martial law over Mindanao on May 23 after terrorists attacked Marawi City, under Proclamation 216.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the House speaker noted, had admitted that the government underestimated the Maute group, which had a stockpile of high-powered weapons and cash.
Pimentel, who was among those invited by the President to a meeting in Malacañang on Monday, said he was able to ask the President if he intended to extend martial law for another 60 days.
“He nodded so I thought he wanted to extend it for 60 days,” Pimentel said.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd, who was also present in the meeting, said the President also told him another 60 days of martial law in Mindanao was needed to resolve the crisis.
But Palace Spokesman Ernesto Abella, in a news briefing on Tuesday, said the President wanted martial law extended until December 31, 2017, or 162 more days from July 22.
Pimentel said there was no danger in extending martial law for more than 60 days as the President could lift it once the situation in Mindanao normalizes.
“The crisis is not yet over and even the clearing operation in Marawi will not be finished by the 60th day which is Saturday, so we really need to extend,” he said.
But for party-list lawmakers Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis, Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers and Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, Congress should not give up its oversight powers by promptly agreeing to Duterte’s proposal.
“We call on the leadership of both Houses not to railroad this [approval of the martial law extension]. There should be a comprehensive, substantive deliberation on the merits and demerits of this extension. The declaration must be based on documented, validated data, and not limited to information coming from the President and the military,” Casilao said.
Tinio said the approval of the extension of martial law should not be ceremonial. “Congress should be responsible in exercising its authority,” he said.
Zarate said victims of the armed conflict should be heard. “We need to hear from the evacuees, the community leaders from Maranao ranks, as well as other victims outside the conflict areas. It’s their voice that should be heard here,” he said.
Rep. Tom Villarin of Akbayan party-list is also unconvinced of the need for a five-month extension.
“It’s a whimsical proposal that has no substantive grounds other than the President’s wishes. From verbalizing 60 days in a dinner with congressional leaders [on Monday], now the President wants to make it five months. It seems they are not sure when to end martial law nor do they have clear outcomes,” Villarin said in a statement.
“It is sending jitters to everyone who don’t want it extended or expanded. Clearly, Congress needs to put parameters to it, as its constitutional mandate for legislative review is now on the table,” he added.
But for Rep. Karlo Nograles of Davao City, martial law over Mindanao allowed government to “surgically” operate against the terrorists and capture terrorist leaders in Davao and Lanao.
“As a Mindanaoan, I will support the extension. If that’s what it takes to normalize the situation, then so be it. The Constitution allows for an extension of Martial Law, and the 60 days was not enough,” Nograles said in a statement.
“What is important is that Congress will remain vigilant in checking abuses. So far, the President has overwhelming support from the population and we can trust him to do his job,” he added.
In his seven-page letter to Congress, Duterte stressed that the extension of martial law in Mindanao is necessary.
“Upon a thorough personal assessment of the current situation in Marawi City and other parts of Mindanao and taking into account the reports and recommendations of the Secretary of National Defense as martial law administrator, the chief-of-staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as martial law implementor and the chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), I have come to the conclusion that the existing rebellion in Mindanao which prompted me to issue Proclamation 216 on 23rd May 2017, will not be quelled completely by 22nd July 2017 – the last day of 60-day period provided under Section 18 Article VII of the 1987 Constitution,” the President.
“For this reason and because public safety requires it, I call upon the Congress to extend until 31st December 2017 or for such a period of time as the Congress may determine the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao,” he added.
Presidential spokesman Abella said Duterte asked for extension to allow government troops to deal with the crisis “unhampered by deadlines.”
“I’m sure all these things are related to whatever information he has. It’s all related to ensure public safety due to certain forces that may be at play within the region,” he added.
The Palace official said Duterte’s seven-page letter to Congress comes with a “detailed report.”
In a media interview in Malacañang, Armed Forces chief Eduardo Año said the extension of martial is necessary since there are still some 800 sympathizers of the Maute Group scattered in different parts of Mindanao.
“We have to address these groups, not only the group in Marawi but the group in Sulu, the group in Basilan, and the group in Mindanao,” Año told reporters.
“Mindanao is a big area. They can easily shift so we have to look at and carefully prevent that shifting from different areas,” he added.
“The Marawi crisis is just a part of the ongoing rebellion and terrorism in Mindanao. We can see that the group in Marawi includes different groups. There’s a group from Sulu, from Basilan, from Maguindanao,” he said.
Año believed that the five-month extension period is “enough” for the military to degrade the capabilities of armed groups in Mindanao.
“We will use this to address all the terrorist groups that supported this rebellion, initiated by the Maute-ISIS group. It’s still far from over. If we are going to fix this, let’s fix this once and for all,” he said.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE and JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA