MALACANANG should “declassify” the intelligence reports that it used as basis in asking Congress to extend up to December 31 the martial law in Mindanao so as to educate the public on the need to prolong martial rule in the region.
Sen. Ralph Recto made the appeal on Thursday, a day after security officials briefed the senators on the current peace and order situation in Marawi that prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to seek a martial law extension.
“If terrorists are knocking on our doors, or if they’re already inside, then transparency is the best policy. If it’s not, conspiracy theorists will have a feast day. And that uncertainty is what terrorists want,” he said.
Recto claimed that documents and reports presented to them by national security officials “were not so revealing and explosive that they can only be discussed in whispers.”
“These closed-door briefings only add mystery. But content-wise, it is not that sensitive that you must first take a vow of secrecy before hearing them,” Recto said.
The briefing was conducted by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces Chief Eduardo Ano, and Nation-al Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and was attended 13 senators, including Recto.
Sen. Joel Villanueva said the national security officials have presented some videos, which showed several houses in Marawi City with “basements.”
“Most of us were surprised to find out that these buildings have underground basements linked to one another and the explanation is very obvious, because [of]clan wars in the past,” Villanueva said in a briefing.
“Here in Metro Manila, we could hardly pinpoint 100 buildings which have underground or basement. We’ve seen videos that show that the enemies have been embedded in the city. These are not outsiders. They are relatives and sympathizers (of Maute brothers),” he said.
The security officials told the senators that government forces have cleared 1,400 buildings of enemies and were in the process of clearing 600 more or “about a million square meters something to that effect,” Villanueva said.
“What has been shared to 24 senators and almost 300 congressmen should be shared to the public as well. There’s no harm in such a disclosure, provided it has been purged of its sensitive contents,” Recto said.
He said a release of curated information to the public would educate them whether an extended martial law in Mindanao was justified or not. “If it will only identify the threats but not the deployment of our forces, then I think the public has the right to know” .
“Let us not embargo all reports. Let us give to the people what we can share. So they can decide for themselves if a prolonged martial law is justified. Let us trust their maturity to appreciate the facts. And to spot the fiction,” he said.
“In so far as information that will not put our soldiers in harm’s way or jeopardize current and future operations, I think this can be shared to the public, for as long as the sensitive parts are redacted,” he said.
Recto said public support for martial law must be “an informed choice, arrived at by them freely through a study of facts, not fake news or alternative facts.”