Congress on Saturday overwhelmingly voted to extend martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao until December 31, 2017.
The combined total of the votes was 261-18, with 245 members of the House of Representatives and 16 senators saying “yes” as opposed to 14 and 4 saying “no” during the Special Joint Session of Congress at the Batasang Pambansa.
Senators allied with President Rodrigo Duterte supported his proposal to extend martial law in the southern Philippines by five months.
They were Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd, as well as Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Francis Escudero, Richard Gordon, Gregorio Honasan 2nd, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, Manuel Pacquiao, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe, Joel Villanueva, Cynthia Villar, and Juan Miguel Zubiri.
The opposition group in the Senate, which rejected the President’s appeal, were Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Paolo Benigno Aquino 3rd, Risa Hontiveros, and Francis Pangilinan.
In explaining his vote, Drilon said that the factual basis for a continued martial law in the entire Mindanao and an extension of up to December 31, 2017 “did not meet the requirements of the Constitution.”
“If this Congress, as it is, gives full and unqualified assent for the continued martial law in the entire Mindanao, where there is no evidence of actual rebellion outside or Marawi City, then we might have just been reduced to a mere echo chamber,” Drilon said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, who voted “yes”, said he “would have preferred a shorter period, to prod an earlier end, because a protracted war only prolongs the agony of civilians caught in the vice-grip of war.”
“But it is out of respect to those in the frontline, to the soldiers in the line of fire, that I am acceding to a five-month extension of martial law. If they say that it is vital to victory, then such must not be denied to them,” Recto said.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said he was concurring with the President’s assessment that “there is a necessity to continue the implementation of martial law until December 31 to achieve the paramount objective of restoring peace under civilian authority.”
Sen. Cynthia Villar approved the extension of martial law “to show support to our mostly young soldiers, in fact 100 of them died and to prevent the movement of terrorists to and from Marawi City.”
Sen. Manny Pacquiao voted “yes” because it was the “right time to support government to exercise its authority and power to discipline people.”
Duterte sought for an extended martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao to suppress a supposedly continuing rebellion led by the combined forces of the Maute group, Abu Sayyaf, Ansarul Khilafah Philippines and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Rep. Karlo Nograles of Davao City described the overwhelming victory for extended martial law as an act of patriotism.
“Let us allow our security forces to do their job of finally crushing the terrorist rebels in Marawi and defeat all other terrorist groups in Mindanao. I also hope and pray that Marawi and Mindanao will be cleared of all terrorist and rebel threats so we can start rebuilding Marawi and Mindanao can rise again,” Nograles said in a statement.
But for Rep. Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list, there was no need to extend martial law anchored on “unconstitutional” implementing guidelines.
Tinio was referring to operational guidelines on martial law, which he made Armed Forces chief Eduardo Año recite during the Special Joint Session.
“Based on this operational guidelines, martial law can be implemented because of major natural disasters or when there is nearby civil unrest. These are not provided for under the Constitution,” Tinio said.
Tinio also questioned why the military needed five more months of martial law even if the number of armed rebels was down to 80.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, one of the government resource persons called to the joint session, replied:
“We still need the extension [of martial law]because we still have a lot of problems in Central Mindanao, Basilan and Sulu. Because of what happened in Marawi, we kind of overlooked what is happening in Jolo because we redeployed our forces in [Marawi], Lanao del Sur.”
The majority number required for the approval of martial law was 158.
Under the Constitution, the President can declare martial law for an initial period of 60 days and ask for its extension in case of rebellion, invasion or when public safety requires it.
Palace welcomes Congress’ approval
Malacañang on Saturday welcomed Congress’ approval of President Duterte’s request to extend his declaration of martial law in Mindanao until December 31.
In a statement, Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said Malacañang thanked Congress for approving the extension of martial law, which he said “is essential to the overall peace and stability.”
“The nation has chosen to stand united in defending the Republic… The rebellion in Marawi continues to persist and we want to stop the spread of the evil ideology of terrorism and free the people of Mindanao from the tyranny of lawlessness and violent extremism,” Abella said.
“Now that the debate is over, let us get on with the job of nation-building and contribute in the attainment of the full promise of Mindanao. There is much work to be done to bring back public safety and law and order in the whole island of Mindanao. There is much work to be done in the recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi. Together, let us transform Mindanao into a land of fulfillment,” he added.
The original martial law proclamation was made on May 23, after government troops who were supposed to arrest international terrorist Isnilon Hapilon encountered the Maute terror group in Marawi City.
WITH BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO and CATHERINE S. VALENTE