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Senators ask Palace, security officials for briefing on Mindanao martial law

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By Mario B. Casayuran

Senators sought on Friday for a briefing from Malacañang and national security officials before they make a decision on whether or not to support a move to extend martial law in Mindanao for another year.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, a political ally of President Dutertre and a native of Bukidnonprovince in Mindanao, said he is open to extending martial law “in our area of Mindanao.”

“But I need to listen to the briefing scheduled by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police (PNP) before I can finalize my decision,” he said.

Another political ally, Sen. Joel Villanueva, shared Zubiri’s opinion. “As we have been saying and calling, we badly need a briefing on this, updates, latest assessment, etc., before we can decide,” he said.

Sen. Grace Poe, who lost to then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte in the 2016 presidential election, said she still has to hear the recommendations of the AFP. “We should also listen to feedback from local government units (LGUs) in Mindanao,” she added.

Sen. Joseph Victor “JV”Ejercito, also a political ally of President Duterte, said that he has been able to talk to LGU officials and local businessmen in Mindanao four times since martial law was declared. “And they are satisfied with martial law in Mindanao,” he said.

“Warlords, private armies cannot move around and their movements are now restricted. Likewise, the problem of loose firearms in Mindanao can now be addressed with martial law in effect. Ordinary folks feel that they are safer and there is now a level playing field as a result of restriction of movements of private armies,” he added.

As far as Sen. Gregorio B. Honasan II, chairman of the Senate National Defense and Security Committee, is concerned, “yes” was his answer. “It is recommended by two key bureaus of the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) involved on the ground in national defense and security, public order and safety in coordination with our front line LGUs,” he said. “If and when the President asks for it in Congress, everything is procedural. Better for us to have it when we need it than to need it and not have it expeditiously.”

Fate of martial law

At the House of Representatives, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the fate of martial law in Mindanao will be known next week or during the final session dates of Congress for 2017.

In a DZRH radio interview Thursday, Alvarez said that President Duterte only has until this week to formally make a request to lawmakers for the extension of martial law in the southern islands, that is if he wants it to last beyond December 31, 2017.

“They have to communicate with us within the week so that we can discuss it by next week whether it will be approved or not,” Alvarez said in Filipino.

The extension of military rule needs to be approved by both chambers of Congress (House of Representatives and Senate) through a Joint Session. The sessions this year will only last up to December 13, Wednesday, so theoretically there’s time for the solons to vote on such request if it is made.

But by Thursday, lawmakers will have begun their month-long Christmas break. According to the Speaker, this makes the chances of a special session bleak.

Military assurance

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) assured the public that there will be no human rights abuses under their watch in case Congress grants the extension of martial law in Mindanao.

The AFP has already submitted its recommendation to extend martial law, citing increasing violence and threats to security and safety in the island.

According to AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, the AFP will submit itself to any investigation if deemed necessary, especially following reports of abuses during the height of the Marawi crisis.

“For the period that we have implemented martial law in the whole of Mindanao, if there were any serious offenses committed by the military, we’re open to any investigation and we have said that.

“We are a transparent organization, we abide by human rights, and we respect human rights, and we abide by international humanitarian law,” he added.

According to Padilla, the soldiers made sure to follow the rules of engagement and will continue to do so in case martial law gets extended. (With reports from Ellson A. Quismorio and Argyll B. Geducos)

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