By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Martial law in Mindanao has been extended anew for the third time.
On Wednesday, Congress – in a joint session – granted President Duterte’s request to extend martial law anew and suspend the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019.
After more than three hours of deliberations, a total of 235 members of Congress voted in favor of the martial law extension, while 28 thumbed it down and one abstained.
The Senate voted 12-5 with one abstention, while House of Representatives voted 223-23.
It was Majority Leader and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolanda Andaya Jr., on the part of the House, who moved that the Congress resolve to extend the period of Proclamation No. 216 and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao for another period of one year from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019. The same motion was made by Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, on the part of the Senate.
“The further extension of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus will enable the AFP, PNP, and all other law enforcement agencies, to finally put an end to the ongoing rebellion, continue to prevent the same from escalating in other parts of the country, and hopefully avoid a catastrophe similar to what happened in Marawi City,” Andaya said.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea cited the continuing “actual rebellion” as reason behind the proposed extension of martial rule in the southern Philippines.
“Actual rebellion still clearly persists in Mindanao. Public safety necessitates further extension of the martial law period and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus,” he said.
He noted that the Chief Executive is seeking another extension of martial law upon an extensive personal evaluation of the current situation in Mindanao and taking into account the security assessments from the Department of National Defense (DND), and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), among others.
In his letter to Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo dated December 6, President Duterte asked Congress to extend the martial law proclamation and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019.
“We cannot turn a blind eye that Mindanao is still in a midst of rebellion. There may have been a significant decimation of local and foreign groups in Marawi City, a weakening of communist terrorist groups’ and local terrorist groups’ capability in the entire Mindanao, and a reduction of atrocities that translated to notable economic gains,” Medialdea said.
Martial law extension opposed
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said there is nothing in the letter of President Duterte that would justify the extension of martial law in Mindanao.
“Mr. President, in the briefing that we had with the military officials last Monday, I did not hear anything that constitutes actual uprising to remove from the allegiance of the government, Mindanao or any part thereof. Neither was there anything in the letter of the President that will justify the extension of martial law in Mindanao,” Drilon said in his speech during the joint session on the martial law extension.
“The Constitution is clear that martial law may be declared only in cases of actual rebellion when public safety requires it. The elements of rebellion are well-settled: it is committed by rising publicly and taking arms against the government for the purpose of removing from its allegiance the territory of the Philippines or any part thereof,” the minority chief pointed out.
“The persistence to continuously place Mindanao under martial law, without any clear showing of actual rebellion, makes me wonder: Is this the new normal?” he asked.
Drilon warned that unlimited use of martial law could lead to abuses in the long run, especially when it becomes part of the Mindanaon’s “everyday reality.”
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman joined Drilon in opposing the martial law extension.
“Proclamation 216 cannot be anymore legally and constitutionally extended because no less than President Duterte on October 27, 2017 announced the liberation of Marawi City,” he said.
AFP Chief of Staff Benjamin Madrigal Jr. reported to the joint session that there are remaining 2,435 communist and terrorist fighters that have to be neutralized.
Lagman said “the alleged remnants of the defeated terrorist groups are quixotic and phantom fighters who are unable to revive an anguished “rebellion” or launch a new one.”
He said an extension of martial law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus will prolong inordinately the regime of martial law to a total of 951 days. “This contravenes the prescription of the 1987 Constitution delimiting the period of martial law to a short duration since the original proclamation should not exceed 60 days.”
Senators Risa Hontiveros and Kiko Pangilinan also opposed the extension of martial law.
Hontiveros said it has become Congress’ “Christmas tradition” to convene in a joint session to give in to the President’s request to extend martial rule.
“A military rule will not reduce the threat of terrorism. Instead it will further project a negative image and or a volatile peace and order situation in our island,” said Anak Mindanao (AMIN) Party-List Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan during the explanation of her “no” vote.
“Anak Mindanao believes that a strong and reformed military institution as well as a disciplined police force will effectively maintain peace and order in the island’s communities…LGUs (local government units) are encouraged to participate their mandate and activate all mechanisms of peace. Anak Mindanao votes ‘no’,” Sangcopan said.
A matter of exigency
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra clarified that the proposal to extend martial law anew “is not a matter of policy, but a matter of exigency.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said they “need more time to neutralize” the remnants of terrorist groups like the Abu Sayyaf, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and Daulah Islamiyah.
“Nandyan pa rin sila patuloy na gumagalaw para guluhin ang bansa. Gusto natin mahuli lahat ang kalaban,” he said.
“We need more time to neutralize them and reduce their capability,” he said. (With reports from Ellson A. Quismorio, Hannah L. Torregoza, and Mario B. Casayuran)