Congress grants Mindanao martial law extension until December

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 22 2017 04:07 PM | Updated as of Jul 23 2017 01:28 AM

In lopsided vote, 261 lawmakers say yes, 18 say no 

MANILA (UPDATE)- After nearly 7 hours of deliberations, Congress on Saturday extended martial law in Mindanao until Dec. 31 on President Rodrigo Duterte's request amid the long-drawn conflict between state troops and Islamic State-linked terrorists in Marawi City.

In a special joint session, Congress, dominated by Duterte's allies, heeded the President's request despite opposition from minority lawmakers. 

A total of 261 legislators approved the extension while 18 rejected the proposal, the final tally coming out at 3:59 p.m. 

Breaking down the voting numbers per house, the Senate tallied 16-4, while the House of Representatives ended up 245-14.

Senators who voted 'no' to the extension were Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and other members of the minority bloc, Senators Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, and Bam Aquino. 

During the deliberations, Congress rejected Drilon's proposal to limit the extension of martial law to 60 days.

"The reason why martial law was limited to 60 days (in the Constitution) was in order that the decision of the President be subjected to regular review," Drilon said.

Senator Manny Pacquiao said he voted in favor of Duterte’s proposal because “it’s [the] right time to give support [to the] government to exercise authority and power to discipline people.”

“In the Bible, it says let everyone subject to the governing authority for there is no authority which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God, consequently whoever rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves,” Pacquiao said.

Senator Francis Pangilinan said he voted against the proposal because it is against the Constitution.

“Naniniwala tayo na ang Saligang Batas mismo ang nagsasabing hindi maaaring lumampas sa animnapung araw ang martial law declaration. Ito po, 150 days, halos kalahating taon po,” he said.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, who also voted "no," said she did so because "martial law has no strategic contribution to the military's anti-terrorism operations in Marawi."

"[W]hile the threat is clear and the need for urgent response compelling, one thing remains unanswered: exactly how martial law contributes to meeting this threat. Walang maisagot dito ang ating mga security advisers, na ang tanging nasabi ay kailangan ng 'enhanced security-based operations.' It is absurd that we use 'timeliness' and 'needs on the ground' as a reason for martial law. Lahat iyan kayang sagutin ng calling-out powers ng pangulo," Hontiveros said in a statement.

Senator Bam Aquino also voted against the extension of martial law for 150 days because he thinks 60 days should have been enough.

"Ang tingin ko po, ang rehabilitation ay mas mainam na gawin sa ilalim ng civilian authority at hindi po sa ilalim ng martial law," he said.

Meanwhile, Quezon City Rep. Christopher Belmonte said he voted “no” because the martial law extension would “normalize the environment of military rule reserved only for the most extraordinary of times.”

“To do so may set a dangerous precedent of normalizing authoritarianism. To do so may have the effect of destroying the very institutions we have sworn to preserve. We should focus on peace as soon as possible, Mr. Speaker,” Belmonte said in a statement.

It was the first time Congress convened in a joint session to consider the extension of martial rule. 

In defending the need for the extension, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said Duterte's martial law declaration in Mindanao was not comparable to the dictatorial regime of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos. 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, also martial law administrator, meanwhile said government would not expand the declaration outside Mindanao. 

In a statement Saturday, Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson for the Lanao del Sur crisis management committee, expressed hopes that the martial law extension would accelerate rehabilitation efforts in war-torn Marawi.

"Since the government is confident that they can defeat the Maute Group and end this crisis within days, there must now be a paradigm shift to focus more on the concerns of our IDPs (internally displaced persons)," he said.

"The extended martial law must not mean extended displacement of our people," he added.

Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial law on May 23 after the ISIS-linked Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups laid siege on Marawi City in a bid to establish an ISIS province in Mindanao. 

The long-drawn fighting has left at least 578 dead as of Friday night, among them 428 terrorists, 105 state forces and 45 civilians, the military said Saturday.

Roughly 300,000 have meanwhile been displaced from the conflict zone and nearby areas.

Duterte had called on Congress to extend martial law in Mindanao until the end of the year, saying government troops could not resolve the Marawi crisis by Saturday, the end of his 60-day martial law proclamation.

"For this reason, that because public safety requires it, I call upon the Congress to extend until 31st of December 2017, or for such a period of time as the Congress may determine, the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao," said Duterte in a statement, as delivered by Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella on Tuesday.

Duterte made the request to Congress through a 7-page letter, which came with a detailed report justifying the need for an extension. 

Under the Constitution, the President may declare martial law for a a period not exceeding 60 days in case of "invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it."

The Constitution, however, also states that “upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.”

On Friday, Duterte said the fighting may soon be over, while Esperon said the combat zone in Marawi City was now limited within three villages as only about 60 to 70 terrorists remain holed up in the battlefield 

The Supreme Court earlier this month affirmed Duterte's declaration of martial law in Mindanao. 

Eleven justices voted to uphold the President's declaration over all of Mindanao; two justices voted to limit the declaration to Marawi City and the rest of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and Sulu; one voted to limit the declaration to Marawi City, the conflict zone. 

A lone justice, meanwhile, voted to nullify the proclamation altogether.