By Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos, Francis T. Wakefield, and Aaron Recuenco
President Duterte will not be lifting martial law in Mindanao before his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24.
Preparations for the President’s SONA are now in full swing with the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) vowing to exercise maximum tolerance and deploy some 6,000 anti-riot policemen in Metro Manila, particularly in the Batasang Pambansa area and various converging points for rallyists.
The President, in a brief interview posted over the Presidential Communications Facebook page, said he has no plans to repeal Proclamation 216 which placed Mindanao under martial law. However, it is set to expire on July 22, the last day of the 60-day period granted to the President by the 1987 Constitution.
Duterte said that he will heed the recommendation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and police on whether to lift or extend martial law because “they are the ones keeping this Republic healthy and alive.”
“I do not have an independent study of what (and) how things are on the ground. It’s not my job. And I cannot do it physically even,” Duterte said in the brief interview.
The President has made three attempts to visit Marawi City. However, bad weather prevented him from doing so twice. He also planned on going to Marawi on his first year in office on June 30 but the plan did not push through.
“’Pag sinabi nila wala nang delikado (If they tell me that it’s no longer dangerous) and everything is okay, then that is the time that we will lift the martial law. Otherwise [it stays],” the President added.
The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) has started preparations for the second SONA of President Duterte on July 24, including the deployment of some 6,000 anti-riot policemen in Metro Manila.
Director Oscar Albayalde, NCRPO chief, said they will continuously implement the intensified security protocol in order to stop those who are planning to attack or sabotage the President’s SONA.
Part of the preparations is the intensified intelligence-gathering and so far, the NCRPO intelligence-community has not monitored serious threat to the SONA, Albayalde said.
Thousands of anti-riot policemen are expected to be deployed near the Batasang Pambansa where the SONA will be held, as well as the usual converging points of protesters like Mendiola in Manila, Welcome Rotonda and the Quezon Memorial Circle both in Quezon City.
Civil Disturbance Management units from all the five police districts of Metro Manila are expected to be deployed to deal with the protesters. On Saturday, CDM units of the five police districts showed their skills and capability in dealing with protest actions.
“We will exercise maximum tolerance,” said Albayalde, and emphasized that it will not be the policemen who would initiate the clashes.
The NCRPO chief also said they are planning to meet with the leaders and organizers of the groups planning to hold protest action during the SONA. The meeting has yet to be finalized.
The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) is looking into the possibility of hiring interpreters who understand English, Filipino, and Bisaya to effectively convey the message of the President’s SONA to the members of the Diplomatic Corps.
To lift or extend
There won’t likely be a strong opposition from other branches of government in case President Duterte decides to seek an extension of martial law in Mindanao, Presidential Communications Office Secretary Martin Andanar said, adding that both the legislature and the Supreme Court have already expressed support for the President’s martial law proclamation to address the security threats in the south.
“Nakita naman natin na sinuportahan ng Kongreso, sinuportahan ng Senado, sinuportahan din ng Judiciary, ng Korte Suprema. So lahat co-equal branch of government ay nagkaisa sa deklarasyon ng martial law at naniniwala sila na ito ay karapat-dapat lamang sa isla ng Mindanao [We have seen the support of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the judiciary, the Supreme Court. All co-equal branches are united in the declaration of martial law and they will believe it is necessary in Mindanao],” he said in a radio interview.
The AFP earlier said that it will give the President its recommendation on whether to lift or extend martial law this week or anytime before the 60-day period of the martial law expires on July 22.
“Hindi pa tapos ang assessment. Kinakailangan may batayan ito bago isulong ‘yung rekomendasyon na ‘yun sa ating Commander-in-Chief (The assessment is not yet finished. It needs to have basis before we make a recommendation to our Commander-in-Chief),” Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesperson, had said.
“Hindi pa rin po natin batid kung ito ay (We still don’t know if it will be a) recommendation for the extension or for the lifting [of martial law],” he said.
“So ayaw ko pong pangunahan ‘yan kaya hintayin na lang po natin hanggang matapos (I don’t want to preempt the recommendation of the AFP, so let’s just wait for it),” he added.
Former AFP Chief and now National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., Presidential Assistant for Military Affairs Arthur Tabaquero, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, AFP chief of staff General Eduardo Año, and other officials of the Department of National Defense (DND) with the AFP Major Service Commanders, Joint Staff, and Personal Staff Defense and security officials visited Marawi for the fourth time last Friday (Day 46).
Lorenzana earlier said that the AFP will try its best to finish the war in Marawi City before the President’s SONA on July 24. “It is just a matter of time,” he said.
Año also said the military is drawing closer to the conclusion of the crisis in Marawi City each day. “Government forces are constantly and daily gaining battle space while the Isis-inspired Maute Group terrorists’ grounds recede by the day as troops press-on relentlessly with their advance,” he added.
“We have the momentum; we dictate the operational tempo; we have the support of the people at large. Thus we are confident that the triumph of the forces of good against that of evil is irreversible,” Ano said.
Lorenzana assured that government has trained its focus on the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi as the defeat of the Maute-ISIS Group looms with the military operations and the cooperation of local government.
“Aided by the principled and properly guided implementation of martial law, the collapse of the terrorists support infrastructure is assured,” Lorenzana said.
“And with the overwhelming support of fellow Filipinos in general and local residents in particular, we can altogether deter terrorists from causing further havoc in other parts of our country,” he added.
The defense and military officials received an extensive briefing from the Commander of Joint Task Force Marawi and concurrent Commander of Army 1st Infantry Division Brigadier General Rolando Bautista who leads the operations in Marawi.
The assessments of enemy strengths and how to negate or counter them; the evaluation of enemy weaknesses and how to exploit them; and the determination of essential adjustments in the tactics, techniques and procedures currently applied by government security forces were among the highlights of the briefing.
Support for troops
AFP Public Affairs Office (PAO) chief Colonel Edgard Arevalo, said as of 6 p.m. Saturday, 367 terrorists have been killed while a total of 367 firearms were recovered from them.
Meanwhile, some 39 civilians have been mercilessly killed or executed by the Maute Group. A total of 1,722 civilians who were held hostage or trapped in the main battle were either rescued or brought out of harm’s way.
Arevalo, at the same time, said that they are overwhelmed how Filipinos here and abroad, and citizens from other parts of the globe, have manifested their unqualified support for the government troops, specifically for the orphans of soldiers Killed-in-Action. Cash donations at the close of banking hours on Friday, July 7, 2017 have already exceeded P3.22 million.
For the Internally Displaced Persons, the cash deposit has reached over P764,000.
Pledges of support from private corporations, among them San Miguel Corporation, are also being processed such as the livelihood package of P2 million for the orphans of soldiers killed in Marawi.
Tags: Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, Manila Bulletin, Martial law in Mindanao, Martial law stays till SONA, Maute Group, May 23, President Duterte, State of the Nation Address (SONA)