MANILA - A Supreme Court justice on Tuesday managed to get Solicitor General Jose Calida and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to agree, on behalf of the government, to a baseline or minimum for lifting of martial law in Mindanao, should the high court uphold its extension.
Justice Francis Jardeleza, during the oral arguments on the petitions against the 3rd extension of martial law in Mindanao, struck a deal with Calida that if the military will be able to reduce the “capability” of terrorist rebel groups in Mindanao by 70%, the AFP will recommend the lifting of martial law.
“If the Court decides to grant an extension, we have agreed today, that you will give us what is the baseline in terms of manpower, in terms of firearms, controlled barangays and violent incidents so that by the end of the year, we will know how much progress has been made."
"We have a deal, Mr. SolGen?" he asked Calida.
Calida initially sought to add “capability” but after the justice clarified that “capability” is the sum total of manpower, firearms, controlled barangays and violent incidents, Calida agreed.
Statistics on these 4 factors have been regularly included in the military’s monthly reports to Congress.
“Okay, your honor, I agree,” he said.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Jardeleza brought up the issue of the baseline when he sought clarification over what Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana meant in his letter to Congress justifying the 3rd martial law extension.
“Kapag po nai-reduce iyan nang about 30% ng kanilang capability, and they become law enforcement problems, then the police forces can take over without the military,” Jardeleza quoted Lorenzana as saying.
“Is it the position of the government that when the capability of the local and the communist terrorist groups are degraded by 30% then you can already recommend to the President that martial law is over?” he asked Calida.
The Solicitor General had to confer with Interior Secretary Eduaro Año, Philippine National Police Chief Oscar Albayalde, AFP Chief of Staff Benjamin Madrigal, Jr. and other security officers for a few minutes as to what Lorenzana meant in his letter.
It was Madrigal who explained that the figure cited by Lorenzana is the military definition of destruction of the enemy.
“When you attain 30% not only in terms of number of the regular forces, but when you have reduced enemy by 30% in terms of strength, firearms, the support system, like for example the barangay affectation, as well as resources, your honor,” he said.
Madrigal clarified that by 30%, he meant reduction of “capability” of enemy by 70% so that the remaining capability is only “30%.”
“We will gladly recommend the lifting of martial law if we attain that, your honor,” he said.
Jardeleza then cited an undated letter from former AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Carlito Galvez to the President stating that the manpower and firepower of local terrorist groups have been reduced by 62% and 45%, respectively, while those of the communist terrorist groups have been reduced by 31% and 38% respectively.
He asked Calida when the military intends to impose this baseline for lifting martial law in Mindanao.
“If this year, they can reduce the capability to 30% this year, then they will recommend, as you heard from the General, your honor,” Calida said, referring to Madrigal.
“I really hope and pray that before December 2019 that the military and police degrade by more than 70% so that the members of the Court do not have to meet again and have another petition,” Jardeleza said.
NOT BINDING ON PRESIDENT
But Justice Marvic Leonen subsequently pointed out, Calida cannot commit to the Court the goal of 30% because the President is not aware of it.
“Are you binding President Rodrigo Duterte, the commander-in-chief? Because I do not see him here and if you arrive at the target only now, that means you are binding the President,” he said.
“I will explain to him what happened here and I will revert to you, your honor,” Calida replied.
“But I think you know the President more than I do. He has his own mind, is that not correct? He has his own goals, is that not correct?” Leonen said.
“As far as all of you are concerned, you’re all alter egos, advisers to the President, is that not correct? And therefore you cannot commit to this court 30%, correct?” he added.
Calida admitted that he only read about the 30% target on Tuesday afternoon and that it was not discussed in Congress.
He also acknowledged the possibility that martial law in Mindanao could still be extended even beyond 2022.
“So this is the new normal. That for the whole term of this President, there will be martial law in Mindanao,” Leonen said.
“Considering that Communist Party has been resilient for 50 years – I was only 6 years old when it started, now, I’m 56 – considering that violent extremism will exist in Mindanao in the next 3 years, considering that there will still be kidnapping, considering that there will still be rido, and those are all in your reports, therefore, are you now telling the Supreme Court that it is possible that the extensions will be not only 3, could be 4, 5 or 6 extensions?” he asked.
“Well, it depends your honor if that policy of 30% degradation which will start this year, if we can[‘t] attain it, why not?,” Calida said.
“I cannot predict the future, your honor,” he added.
Jardeleza voted to uphold the declaration of martial law in Mindanao but rejected its extension.
Leonen, on the other hand, has consistently voted against the imposition and extension of martial law in Mindanao.
MONTHLY MILITARY REPORTS TO CONGRESS DECLASSIFIED
Jardeleza nevertheless congratulated Calida for convincing his clients – the Executive and the security sector – to declassify of make public their reports to Congress.
“I think you have done a great service to the country by saying the report of the military to the Congress is not classified. So that people will know on a month-to-month basis how much progress the military and the PNP are doing,” he said.