MANILA - Sen. JV Ejercito on Tuesday said there might be a need to extend the 60-day martial law declaration in Mindanao amid the military's difficulties in quelling terror groups in Marawi City.
Ejercito, a known ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, said government forces were dealing with snipers holed up around the city who are difficult to defeat.
It has been 22 days since gunfights erupted between government troops and the Islamic State-backed Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in Marawi City on May 23.
The president declared martial law on the same day, later telling Congress in a report that the terror groups were out to turn Mindanao into an Islamic State province, undermining sovereign authority.
Asked if he sees the need to extend the declaration, Ejercito said: "I would think so…You cannot really set deadlines...Pinakamabigat ditong kalaban yung snipers eh. 'Yun ang disadvantage ng ating AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines)."
The senator said he would gamely support a martial law declaration extension in Mindanao if the president would ask Congress, but added that he would seek another security briefing before doing so.
Ejercito was among 17 senators who voted against calling a joint session of Congress to review Duterte's declaration.
But Sen. Francis Escudero said it was inappropriate for a lawmaker to volunteer the extension without the President's urging.
"It is presumptuous and a surrender/abdication of Congress' powers and prerogatives to say the least, for a member of Congress to volunteer an extension even before the President asks for it especially given the fact the it is only the President who is in possession of intelligence information that, if at all, would necessitate such an extension," he said in a statement.
Under the Philippine Constitution, the President may put the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law for only 60 days, and Congress, voting jointly, or the Supreme Court may revoke the declaration.
Congress also has the power to extend the proclamation for a period it will determine "upon the initiative of the President" and "if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it."
Ejercito meanwhile believes the involvement of American troops in Marawi City, even in non-combat operations, was a good sign that Philippine-US relations was on its way back to how it was.
Relations had been strained between the long-time allies since Duterte took power in 2016 and delivered angry retorts at US criticism of his anti-drug campaign. He has vowed to deviate from the traditional alliance, instead enhancing ties with known US rivals China and Russia.
Ejercito said there was a real need for the Philippines to ask help from other countries, stressing that terrorism was the "world's problem."
In a video taken by ABS-CBN News in Marawi City, four Americans were spotted in a video taken in Marawi City, standing beside a pickup truck, flying a drone.
The military has insisted that the aid was only limited to "technical support" and assured the public that there are "no boots on ground" from the US side as the law prohibits such.