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Congress okays 1 more year of martial law in Mindanao

14 December 2017

With a vote of 240 in favor and 27 against, a joint session of Congress overwhelmingly approved President Duterte’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao by one year.

The military has warned of continuing threats from the pro-Islamic State group militants and the communist organization.

This despite Duterte’s declaration in September of the defeat of the Islamist militants in Marawi City.

 Justifying Duterte’s request to Congress, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said remnants of the IS-linked militants were trying to regroup and recruit to recover from their defeat in Marawi City.

“The rebellion has not stopped, it has just moved to another place,” Lorenzana told senators and congressmen in a special joint session.

Duterte immediately thanked Congress for swiftly responding positively to his request. He spoke at a ceremony at an Army camp where hundreds of rifles and other weapons used by the extremists in Marawi were destroyed with a road roller. Asked by reporters about the prospects of martial law being imposed nationwide, the president said it cannot be ruled out if the country’s survival is at stake.

“You threaten the existence of the Republic of the Philippines, I am sure that everybody will react and do what he must do to prevent it,” he said.

Five months of intense fighting, including daily airstrikes and artillery bombardments by the military against hundreds of militants, left more than 1,100 combatants and noncombatants dead and displaced about half a million people, turning mosque-studded Marawi’s central business and residential districts into a smoldering war zone.

Lorenzana said it would take at least three years to rebuild Marawi, a bastion of Islamic faith in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines.

Opposition lawmakers questioned the constitutionality of the martial law extension, saying it was an “extreme measure” that can only be imposed when actual rebellions against the government exist. They expressed fears that such a move can be a prelude for Duterte to declare martial law throughout the country.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, president of Liberal Party, said the martial law declaration did not have a clear constitutional basis. He cited the government’s declaration that the terrorists have been defeated in Marawi, and said that major rebel attacks have been dealt with by past presidents without resorting to martial rule.

“We will be in danger of becoming the monsters that we seek to defeat, those who have no regard for law, order or respect for the constitution,” Pangilinan said.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23 this year to quell the rebellion of the Islamic State-inspired Maute extremist group.

Congress rushed approval of the martial law extension bill before it adjourned for a month-long holiday break on Wednesday, December 13.

But some senators see the proposed one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao as yet another attempt to place the entire country under authoritarian rule.

Senator Franklin Drilon, minority leader in the Senate, raised suspicions on the justification that the administration gave for extending the martial law period in Mindanao. It was originally declared to contain and defeat the Islamic State-inspired Maute group that attempted to take take over Marawi City earlier this year.

“The president cited the NPA for the first time in his extension. The NPA conflict was not cited in the original request. The NPA conflict has been there for the last four decades. Suddenly, the NPA has been cited as an additional ground for the extension of martial law in Mindanao,” Drilon cited during a joint session of Congress on the President’s proclamation..

“Is this now a prelude to declaring martial law nationwide?” he asked.

Opposition groups have raised concerns that martial law, which surveys suggest has the support of Mindanao residents, will be expanded to the Visayas and Luzon.

“Is this now a prelude to declaring martial law nationwide?” Opposition groups have raised concerns that martial law, which surveys suggest has the support of Mindanao residents, will be expanded to the Visayas and Luzon.

Drilon said there is no basis to further extend martial law since there is no actual rebellion in Mindanao following the liberation of Marawi City in October.

For her part, Senator Risa Hontiveros noted that the NPA has already been characterized as a spent force, and wondered why it is now being used to extend martial law in Mindanao.

But Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said NPA had recently staged attacks in Eastern and Southern Mindanao.

“NPA is not a main target of martial law. They are already branded as a terrorist organization because they have already alerted their troops on the ground to strengthen attacks,” Lorenzana claimed.

The Defense department said in February, when peace talks with communist rebels first hit snags over political prisoners still in detention and alleged continuing counterinsurgency operations, that the NPA had grown to about 5,000 members across the country.

Lorenzana said then that he had received reports stating that there had been a “surge” in recruitment by the NPA.

In his letter to Congress, Duterte cited continued threats from Islamic State-linked extremists, local terrorists and communist rebels as the primary reason to justify the extension of martial law for another year.

“A further extension of the implementation of martial and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao will help the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and all other law enforcement agencies to quell completely and put an end to the ongoing rebellion in Mindanao and prevent the same from escalating to other parts of the country,” the president wrote.

He dedicated five paragraphs out of 17 to detail alleged atrocities committed by the NPA.

Duterte said that NPA committed 385 “atrocities” in Mindanao, which resulted in deaths of 41 government personnel and 23 civilians.

NPA is also responsible for at least 59 arson incidents in the southern Philippines, he added.

On December 5, Duterte signed a proclamation classifying the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the NPA, as terrorist groups.

On November 23, Duterte formally terminated negotiations with communists through Proclamation 360, citing the rebels’ supposed failure to display sincerity to the peace process.

The New People’s Army, the armed wing of the rebels, has earned Duterte’s ire for staging attacks that killed civilians.

Martial law was declared on May 23, within hours of the Maute attack on the capital of Lanao del Sur. The extension was approved by Congress in July until December 31 this year.

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