MANILA - Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares on Wednesday accepted Solicitor General Jose Calida's challenge to a debate on President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law declaration in Mindanao.
“To Solicitor General Calida, the reported challenge is accepted. Any time, any day, the Solgen can even choose the place where to debate this issue and we are not afraid to be there,” Colmenares said in a statement.
Calida earlier challenged Colmenares to a debate when the latter questioned the President's reasons for declaring martial law in Mindanao amid the ongoing conflict in Marawi City.
Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, after firefights erupted between government troops and the Islamic State-linked Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups. The gunfights broke out as state forces attempted to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, known to be the anointed ISIS leader in Southeast Asia.
In justifying his declaration to Congress, Duterte said the extremists, known to have planned the attacks days before the firefights, were planning to establish an Islamic State province in Mindanao.
Separate petitions against Duterte's martial law declaration, filed by opposition lawmakers, leftist leaders and four women from Marawi City, are pending before the Supreme Court.
Colmenares, a former lawmaker, also scored Calida's apparent inclusion of incidents involving communist rebels in his consolidated comment filed before the High Court defending Duterte's need to declare martial law.
In an annex attached to the state's comment, Calida cited "atrocities in Mindanao" before the Marawi crisis, among them incidents involving the New People's Army (NPA).
Colmenares called this “an afterthought invented after they found it difficult to justify martial law in the entire Mindanao.”
“Is the Solgen now saying that the NPA was actually one of the reasons for the imposition of martial law when there was no previous mention at all of their involvement in the Marawi attacks? President Duterte even asked the NPA and MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) to help him in destroying the Maute group,” he said.
Colmenares added that the government’s “recent insertion” of the communists as a reason to “justify martial law” could affect the peace negotiations.
“The NPA, MILF, or even the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), [were] never mentioned in Proclamation 216 (martial law declaration), which only centered in the events in Marawi. The recent insertion is nothing more than a grasping at straws to invent a ghost factual basis to include the whole of Mindanao for the events in Marawi,” he said.
The government suspended peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines on May 27 due to continuing offensives by communist rebels.