MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday said it may submit as early as next week its recommendation to President Rodrigo Duterte on whether or not martial law in Mindanao should be extended beyond 60 days.
AFP Spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla Jr. said the military was still assessing the situation on the ground, where state offensives against Islamic State-linked terrorists continue.
Duterte's martial law proclamation, laid down on May 23 when clashes erupted in Marawi City, will expire on July 22, based on the 60-day constitutional limit. But the President may seek an extension from Congress if he deems this necessary.
The President has said he would rely on the advice of his military commanders whether or not to extend the declaration.
“Kinakailangan may batayan ito bago isulong 'yung rekomendasyon na iyon sa ating Commander-in-Chief. At ‘yung pag-assess na ito at pag-aaral na ito ay kasalukuyan pa lang ginagawa,” Padilla told reporters in a chance interview in Malacañang.
“So maaring ibigay ito sa susunod na linggo o bago matapos ‘yung takdang panahon ng 60 days," he said.
Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial law after Islamic State-linked militants led by the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups laid siege on Marawi City in a bid to establish an Islamic State province in Mindanao.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday affirmed the president’s proclamation, junking several petitions that questioned his basis for declaring martial rule over all of Mindanao.
Eleven justices voted to uphold Duterte's declaration, three voted to limit martial rule to certain parts of Mindanao, and one magistrate said the proclamation had no basis.
Even as he acknowledged his administration's court victory, Duterte said he wants the martial law imposition to end “as soon as possible,” but said this may only happen once the entire region is safe from extremists.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said that while government troops can carry out the same level of anti-terror operations even without a martial law declaration, he believes its imposition carries greater “impact”.
NO LIMIT TO MARTIAL LAW PROCLAMATION
As the end of the 60-day limit on martial law imposition looms, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the President may issue another martial law proclamation if Congress fails to extend his May 23 declaration.
“There would be a need for [another] proclamation if he feels [it is necessary] and upon recommendation of the Armed Forces that there is a need for prolonged martial law,” Panelo told reporters on Thursday.
“But, of course, if the presidents wants to extend it, he will have to ask Congress," he said.
Panelo argued that Duterte may issue another martial law proclamation since the Constitution is not explicit that the President may only do so once.
“Otherwise, we will be tying the President’s hands in quelling the rebellion,” he said.
Panelo added that the 60-day constitutional limit on martial law enforcement may no longer apply if Congress, dominated by Duterte’s allies, decides to extend the May 23 martial law declaration.
Both the police and military chiefs have said they were "inclined" to endorse an extension of the martial law declaration in Mindanao to give way to rehabilitation efforts.
Clashes in Marawi is now on its 7th week, and the terrorists have shown no signs of giving up despite relentless bombings and ground assaults of state troops.
From the original number of forces of about 500, Padilla said terrorists still holed up in the besieged city are now down to about 80. These include leaders of the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon.
“Their stockpile of weapons could still be there and they still may have enough. So these are the areas that we are focusing on and addressing,” Padilla said.
The military has been having a hard time retaking parts of Marawi still controlled by the terrorists, as snipers from the enemy side still lurk around the conflict zone. Government forces are also careful in advancing towards the enemy position due to the presence of booby traps.
Padilla said about 300 civilians, including the terrorists’ hostages, remain trapped in the battle zone, preventing state forces from going all-out against the enemies.
At least 479 people- 353 suspected terrorists, 39 civilians, and 87 government troops- have died since battle began.
While the government has put the civilian death toll at 39, the military believes this could “increase significantly” as troops have yet to reach other parts of the city where some trapped civilians were feared to have been executed.
About 400,000 civilians from Marawi and outlying areas have also been displaced as a result of the fighting.
As the government expects a prolonged battle with the terrorists, a tent city will soon be set up to accommodate the displaced residents.
The emergence of groups pledging allegiance to Islamic State has been considered the biggest security problem to face the year-old Duterte administration.
The rise of pro-ISIS groups in the country has also raised alarm in Washington and the Philippines’ neighbors in the region, which fear that the notorious terror group was seeking to establish a new front in Asia amid its successive losses in Iraq and Syria.