PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte may declare martial law in Mindanao anew if Congress rejects a proposal to extend it beyond the 60-day limit set by the Constitution, the top Palace legal counsel said on Wednesday, amid warnings from the opposition of prolonged military rule.
“If Congress does not extend on the 60th day upon initiative of the President then there can be no extension. Another proclamation is necessary,” Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo told reporters in a text message.
The 1987 Constitution states that Congress, upon the initiative of the President, “may extend such proclamation (of martial law) or the suspension (of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus) for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.”
Duterte earlier said only the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) knew when would be the right time to lift martial law, which the President imposed over Mindanao following the May 23 attack of Marawi City by Islamic State-linked Maute terrorists.
During the Mindanao Hour news briefing in Malacañang, AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said the military had yet to determine if there was a need to extend martial law in Mindanao.
“We have set conditions that would specifically mention or act as the standards whether martial law should be extended or not,” Padilla told reporters.
“That assessment regarding whether those conditions have been met has not yet been made fully. It will be made in about a week and a half or two,” he added.
The martial law declaration, under Proclamation 216, will mark its 60th day on July 22.
On Tuesday, the high tribunal dismissed petitions questioning the legality of Duterte’s proclamation. Eleven justices voted in favor, three magistrates wanted to limit its scope, and only one dissented.
No rush in Marawi
Padilla said the government was not rushing to end the Marawi crisis in time of the President’s State of the Nation Address later this month.
He said Duterte gave neither a specific date to end clearing operations nor marching orders to expedite the offensive.
“There’s no specific instruction from the President. The President respects the judgment of our ground commanders,” Padilla said.
“The combat situation or the environment is a little bit complex than other environments that we have. That is why the fight ongoing on the ground is going on very slowly. So giving a deadline would not be fair again to the troops. But we are doing our best…to finish this once and for all,” he added.
The AFP spokesman said at least four villages were still under the control of snipers from the Maute terror group, whose members remain holed up in key establishments in the city.
Opposition lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Wednesday warned against extending the 60-day declaration of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus allowing warrantless arrests in Mindanao.
“We oppose Duterte’s creeping authoritarian rule and the Supreme Court decision will embolden him to expand martial law. We want [Congress] to look into the operational guidelines of martial law and its impact on the ground. Some indigenous peoples have complained that their freedom of travel have been restricted as many don’t have identification cards,” said Rep. Tomas Villarin of Akbayan party-list, one of the petitioners against the martial law declaration.
Rep. Teodoro Baguilat of Ifugao, another petitioner, said: “Our contention is that we can effectively fight terrorists and rebels even without the extraordinary powers of martial law. The administration has to justify how one month of martial law rule in Mindanao was successful in quelling the uprising in Maute and improving the security situation in the islands.”
Since Duterte’s martial law declaration on May 23, the military has yet to retake Marawi City, the capital of Lanao del Sur, from the Maute group’s control, the lawmakers noted.
Villarin said he would file a resolution seeking to investigate human rights abuses and excesses committed under Duterte’s martial law.
He cited the accounts of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in Lanao del Sur, which pointed to alleged “wanton disregard of sanctity of domicile, the right against deprivation of property without due process of the law, the right to be secure in one’s person, house, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the privacy of communication and correspondence of innocent civilians committed by the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police.”
Villarin noted that following the Supreme Court ruling, martial law could be “expansive and cover all acts remotely related to rebellion, like expressing dissent in social media.”
But for Representatives LRay Villafuerte of Camarines Sur and Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list, the Supreme Court ruling would boost the morale of government troops battling Maute terrorists.
“I hope that everybody can now refocus on productive endeavors like helping in the relief and rehabilitation efforts in Marawi City,” Villafuerte said.
Sen. Vicente Sotto 3rd said he might support the extension of martial law if limited to Lanao del Sur, where war-torn Marawi City is located, instead of covering the entire Mindanao.
“It will be easier [for us to support any extension]if they will say they will confine it [in Lanao del Sur]. [But] if it is still be the entire Mindanao, we have to know why,” he said in a media forum.
Opposition stalwart Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay won’t appeal the Supreme Court ruling that dismissed his and his colleagues’ petition against Duterte’s declaration of martial law, saying a rematch with the government would be “futile.”
“While filing a motion for reconsideration is an option for the petitioners, a rematch with the 11 justices may be an exercise in futility, as they may not be disposed to change their stance in favor of President Duterte,” Lagman added, referring to the 11 justices who favored President Duterte’s martial law declaration.
with LLANESCA T. PANTI AND BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO