By Argyll B. Geducos, Vanne P. Terrazola, Charissa L. Atienza
Malacañang respects the recommendation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to extend the martial law in Mindanao to address threats posed by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
But Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar said the decision to extend it is still with President Duterte
“Sila naman talaga ang nakakaalam sa mga ganyang subject, pagdating sa pakay ng (They are really the ones who know these concerns, especially when it comes to) national security and they have all the reasons to give their thoughts because ang pinakamahalaga talaga sa lahat eh ang seguridad ng bawa’t Pilipino (the most important is the security of every Filipino),” Andanar said over state-run Radyo Pilipinas.
“So the decision of the Armed Forces or the recommendation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is actually accepted, well, but then again, it will be the President who will decide,” he added
The AFP recommended martial law extension last Friday, stressing that as soldiers clear Marawi City of the remaining unexploded devices and booby-traps, they are also addressing threats posed by the ASG and the BIFF.
Solons divided on extension
The move is supported by Senators Gregorio Honasan and Joseph Victor Ejercito.
Honasan, chair of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, said he believes that extending martial rule in the southern regions would benefit “the most important chapter in the happenings in Marawi City, that is, its recovery, rehab, and reconstruction.”
“Marahil ay naniniguro lang ang liderato ng ating military at kapulisan, na walang magiging balakid o sagabal kapag nandun na tayo sa chapter nayun. Dahil mas madali yung clearing (Maybe, the military and police leadership wants to make sure that everything will go smoothly when they are in that chapter already since clearing is easier),” Honasan, who also heads the Ad Hoc Committee on Marawi Rehabilitation, said in a radio interview Saturday.
Should the AFP pursue its proposal, Honasan said they must submit a report explaining the need to extend martial law, stressing congressional procedures, like joint sessions, that have to be undertaken, as conducted previously. Ejercito, on the other hand, said most residents prefer retaining martial law, fearing the resurgence of the terrorist attacks and abuse of loose firearms.
He was in Marawi City Saturday to meet officials of the Task Force Bangon Marawi for the rehabilitation of the devastated city, including the provision of houses for displaced residents. He chairs the Senate Committee on Urban Planning, Housing, and Resettlement.
“Base sa mga nakausap ko – hindi lang (Based on those I talked to – not just) local officials, AFP o PNP – yung mga ordinaryong mamamayan sa Mindanao, eh, halos lahat ng tao mas pabor sila sa martial law, kasi ayaw na nilang maulit yung Marawi, yung presence of firearms. Kumbaga traumatized na (Based on those I talked to – not just local officials, AFP or PNP – but the ordinary citizens in Mindanao, most of them are in favor of martial law as they do not want a repeat of the marawi siege),” he said in a separate interview.
“Kung may martial law, talagang controlled na ang firearms (If there’s martial law, firearms will be controlled),” he added.
Ejercito said the military rule in Mindanao could be a “blessing” to “totally cleanse” the region of loose firearms and “private armies.”
Both senators allayed the public’s fear of human rights violations under the Mindanao martial law.
“Iba naman yung martial law ngayon sa martial law dati. Yung martial law dati (Martial law before was different from martial law now. Martial law before) was to prolong or perpetuate power, ito (this one), is for security. Ngayon walang (Now, there is no) report on abuse on the part of the police, Armed Forces, no incidence of human rights violations, so I will support it,” Ejercito said.
Deputy Speaker and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro and Isabela Rep. Rodito Albano likewise threw their all-out support to the possible extension of martial law in Mindanao.
“I support the possible extension not because the threat is still there but, actual hostilities by allied terrorists are still there. Martial law should be given the chance to complete its purpose,” Castro said.
“If there’s a need to eradicate these lawless elements using the AFP then why not. This is the time to do it with the AFP in high morale. Support of the civilians to soldiers is at their peak,” Albano said.
But Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Makmod Mending said it is “premature” to tackle whether or not martial law should be extended, as the military has been given the deadline of bringing normalcy back until the end of year.
“To my mind, it is premature to talk about it.The military should be focused on bringing normalcy back. A state of martial law is an indication of government’s failure to bring back normalcy,” Mending said in an interview.
“It would be better for the AFP to show to our people that they are up to the task, they are given up to the end of the year. I believe that is more than enough time given to them so we can return to normalcy,” he said.
According to Andanar, the Palace recognizes that there are still many problems in Mindanao even after the conclusion of the five-month war against Daesh-inspired Maute terrorists in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
For his part, former Speaker and Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said, “Let’s wait for something more concrete.”
Martial law expedites recovery
Andanar said the AFP is looking at the rehabilitation of Marawi, clearing operations, and the threat of other armed groups in other parts of Mindanao.
Padilla, during the Bangon Marawi press briefing Malacañang Friday, said that while the situation in Marawi City is now starting to normalize, the implementation of martial law is helping expedite the process, especially in the clearing of 36 more barangays in the city.
He also said that the AFP is trying to finish the operations within the remaining period of martial law.
“We’re working toward that. We’re hoping to be able to address and normalize everything by the end of the year because that was the deadline given to us,” he said.
“But be that as it may, the network of the local terrorist groups still continues and this is the subject of our efforts. So if we are able to address that by December, then we will report that to you and give justification for the lifting of martial law,” he added.
“If not, we will have to request an extension to be able to address the remaining threats in area,” he continued.
Martial law was declared by President Duterte in the entire Mindanao on May 23, 2017 to address the terror threat in the island. When it expired on July 24, 2017, Congress granted its extension until the end of the year.
According to Padilla, the presence of armed elements in some parts of Mindanao, particularly the ASG and the BIFF, is one of the reasons they cannot recommend the early lifting of martial law despite the declaration of Marawi’s liberation last month.
“’Yung pangunahin is ’yung network at ’yung mga naiiwang banta na nanggagaling sa malalaking grupo na may kakayahan na maglunsad ng malakihang pagsalakay (The main consideration is the network of the terrorists and the remaining threat from large groups which can launch a large-scale attack),” he said.