Congress extends Mindanao martial law until end of 2018

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 13 2017 01:37 PM | Updated as of Dec 14 2017 01:34 PM

A soldier walks past a pocket of poinsettia blooms in Marawi City on Dec. 2, 2017, as he surveys the damage wrought by the fighting that prompted the declaration of martial law over the entire Mindanao. 

MANILA - (UPDATED) Lawmakers approved Wednesday President Rodrigo Duterte's request to extend martial law in Mindanao for another year to quell the threat of terrorism.

After 4 hours of deliberations, a total of 240 legislators voted to extend the military rule anew until the end of 2018 while 27 rejected the proposal.

Breaking down the voting numbers per house, the Senate tallied 14-4, while the House of Representatives ended up 226-23. 

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

Duterte placed the restive south, home to 22 million people, under military rule after Islamic State sympathizers attacked Marawi last May 23. On his request, lawmakers had extended martial law until December 31.
 
In his letter to Congress on Monday, Duterte cited a lingering terror threat in Mindanao as well as the armed insurgency of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) as reasons for seeking the extension of martial law until December 31, 2018. 

The chief executive said the move will help state forces deal with lawless armed groups better and ensure public safety.

REBELLION NOT OVER 

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Remnants of Marawi attackers have been recruiting and training new fighters "in preparation for a new wave of attacks," Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said before Duterte's request was put to vote. 

Medialdea said 185 persons listed in the martial law arrest order for allegedly supporting terrorists remained at large. 

Communist "terrorists" meanwhile have taken advantage of the Marawi rebellion to step up their decades-long insurgency, which killed 41 state troops and 23 civilians and destroyed P2.2 billion worth of property this year, he said. 

"Despite the liberation of Marawi and the eerie silence in the main battlefield, a state of actual rebellion subsists in Mindanao," Medialdea warned. 

Martial law administrator Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana added: "The rebellion has not stopped, it just moved to another place." 

NATIONWIDE, INDEFINITE MILITARY RULE? 

Protesters from different groups led by Barug Katungod Mindanao and Karapatan stormed the gates of the Department of National Defense to air their grievances, December 6, 2017. The groups raised the issues of numerous rights violations by the military under martial law in Mindanao. George Calvelo, ABS CBN News

Drilon however said extending martial at this point was unconstitutional as its grounds were mere "threats,' not the requisite presence of an armed uprising or invasion. 

"The Constitution is clear that Congress can only extend the proclamation of martial law in case of actual, public uprising and taking arms against the government," he said during the interpellation. 

Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza also expressed fear that the military rule may be extended indefinitely. 

"If we allow an extension of 1 year, it could be extended to another 2 years, then another 3 years, contrary to the basic and fundamental intention of the Constitution," he said. 

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman echoed the misgiving, saying that the Constitution provides only for "an extension of the original proclamation, not an extension of 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."

The wording of this provision is "very open-ended" and does not state that any extension should be the same as the original 60-day period, noted Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra. 

"As a matter of fact, your first extension was for more than 60 days already," he told lawmakers. 


STEMMING COMMUNIST ATTACKS 

This photo taken on July 30, 2017 shows guerrillas of the New People's Army (NPA) in formation in the Sierra Madre mountain range, located east of Manila. Noel Celis, AFP

Hontiveros meanwhile questioned why the government cited the communist threat a key reason for extending martial law when both Malacañang and the military earlier dubbed the New People's Army as a "spent force."

Col. Edgar Arevalo Presidential and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque characterized the NPA as a "spent force" in separate instances in March and December, Hontiveros said. 

She also said martial law and suspending the writ of habeas corpus tend to "spike" communist recruitment. The NPA, she pointed out, reached its peak with 30,000 to 45,000 members a year after the military began one of its biggest attacks against rebels in 1984. 

Lorenzana said the NPA became part of martial law's focus because Duterte had branded them as terrorists after escalating attacks in the south recently. 

'ABUSES' UNDER MILITARY RULE 

Amin party-list Makmod Mending, Jr. and Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago meanwhile raised reports that soldiers allegedly looted houses in Marawi and committed wrongful arrests. 

Lorenzana said authorities immediately released several individuals from detention after disproving their alleged terror links. 

He also denied that troops inflicted physical harm on suspects or engaged in looting. 

Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao was not allowed to present a resource person who allegedly experienced the brutality of martial law in Mindanao. 

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, meanwhile, welcomed the extension of martial law and called for the public to "stand behind the Administration and rally behind our defenders."