MANILA - House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Wednesday expressed his full backing for President Duterte's declaration of martial law in Mindanao, saying it was necessary to quell the protracted conflict in the restive south.
“Tama lang iyung ginawa ng ating President. Sa aking pananaw bilang isang taga-Mindanao ay talagang merong kaguluhan na nangyayari doon, at ito ay matagal nang dinudusa ng ating bayan, kaya siguro kailangan na ng talagang desisyon na nararapat para i-address itong problemang ito,” Alvarez told reporters.
The Maute terror group on Tuesday occupied schools, a hospital, and a parish in Marawi City after the military attempted to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
The siege prompted Duterte to declare martial law for the whole of Mindanao and cut short what was supposed to be his 5-day visit to Russia.
Congress is constitutionally mandated to review a martial law declaration within 48 hours of its proclamation. Voting jointly, both houses of the legislature may revoke or uphold such proclamation through a majority vote in a regular or special session.
It may also extend the period covered by such proclamation.
Human rights groups and various opposition politicians expressed concern over the declaration, saying rights of ordinary Filipinos might be violated.
Duterte said he "will be harsh" in dealing with the terror groups now that the martial law is in place, adding its implementation will be similar to that of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Human Rights Watch, a staunch critic of Duterte’s war on drugs, said “lawlessness” of the government’s war on drugs “heightens grave concerns that his declaration of martial law in Mindanao will bring further rampant abuses.”
Alvarez lashed back at groups who said the President's declaration was hastily made.
"Hindi po. 'Yung nagsasabing knee-jerk ang reaction ay hindi sila maaring familiar sa terrain…as a Mindanaoan, yes I fully believe na talagang may basehan yung pagdeklara ng martial law,” said Alvarez, who represents Davao del Norte.
In 2009, Congress held a joint session of the House and Senate to hear the justifications of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for declaring martial law in Maguindanao after the infamous massacre there. Arroyo revoked the declaration before Congress could put the matter to a vote.
Duterte is the third president to declare martial law in the country's modern history after Arroyo in 2009 and Marcos in 1972.
MARTIAL LAW OPPOSED
Progressive groups meanwhile expressed misgivings over the declaration.
"The declaration signals an all-out militarist approach that may prove even more disastrous to the security, properties and lives of our people, particularly in Mindanao,” Bayan Muna said in a statement.
“In the past, these extreme militarist measures resulted in massive and wanton violation of human rights of our people by government security forces, particularly in the Moro areas of Mindanao.”
Gabriela Women’s Party, meanwhile, said the blanket implementation of martial law in Mindanao “enables the military crackdown on perceived terrorists and enemies of the state not just in Marawi but in other Mindanao cities and provinces as well.”
“We will vote against the martial law proclamation once Congress takes it up for discussion and voting in a joint session,” the group said.
For Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin, Duterte's declaration of martial law was "uncalled for" and "another knee-jerk reaction to the Mindanao situation."
"It shows his shallow grasp of the deep-seated and recurring problem in southern Philippines," Villarin said.
"It is totally uncalled for and will only worsen the problem as unwarranted violations of human rights will push people to extremes," he added.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, another staunch Duterte critic, also questioned Duterte’s decision to declare martial law in Mindanao when the siege was only confined in certain parts of the region.
“Citing security problems aside from Maute in Western and Central Mindanao as the reasons why the declaration covers the entire Mindanao is something that we should consider deeply, because those security issues have been there for the longest time. This may mean that martial law could extend much longer than intended,” Alejano said.
"Nonetheless, I hope the government would be able to contain the Maute and other threats soonest possible time and prevent any spill over to other parts of the country,” he said.
ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said the declaration was an “unjustifiable recourse to fascistic and militarist methods for dealing with social unrest in our society.”
“It should be noted that this declaration has been in the works for months. The President has been dropping hints and conditioning the public for months that Mindanao is in a state of rebellion and that, consequently, he was considering the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus,” he added.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, another opposition lawmaker, was calmer in his assessment of the declaration, asking his colleagues to determine its factual basis, which the law limits to “invasion or rebellion, when public safety requires it.”
INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW
For Deputy Minority Leader and Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque, meanwhile, international humanitarian law guarantees the rights of civilians.
"Both civilians and civilian objects or properties are protected under the laws of armed conflict by the principle of distinction," Roque said.
He explained that under the law on armed conflicts, parties are to distinguish between civilians and civilian objects on the one hand, and combatants and military targets on the other.
The 1977 Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Convention provides that the civilian population enjoys immunity such that it shall “enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations” and “shall not be the object of attack,” Roque said.
"Additional Protocol I also prohibits indiscriminate attacks, thereby obliging each party to an armed conflict under all circumstances to distinguish at all times between combatants and military objectives, and civilians or civilian objects," he continued.
Moreover, Roque said according to the Geneva Conventions Additional Protocol II of 1977, which applies in internal conflicts, forced civilian displacement may be undertaken legally only when civilians’ very safety or “imperative military reasons” require it.
The lawmaker, an expert in constitutional and international law, said if civilians have to be moved out of conflict areas for safety or military imperatives, military authorities must ensure that evacuees are placed under protected, hygienic, and humane conditions, and their displacement must be as short-lived as possible.
He further warned that anyone who violates this rule may be held liable for abetting or otherwise causing a humanitarian disaster in the region because of an iron-fisted treatment of civilians displaced in the fighting.