MANILA - Terror groups engaging government forces in a protracted battle in Marawi City may have "political" motives.
A Supreme Court justice said this Tuesday as the High Tribunal held oral arguments on petitions against President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of martial law over Mindanao after clashes broke out between state forces and the Islamic State-linked Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in Marawi City on May 23.
"We are living in modern times. We cannot use the standard used many, many years ago... Terrorism now is being used to achieve a political objective," Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro said during the first day of oral arguments, where justices heard the petitioners.
"I don't think terrorists are sowing terror just for the sake of sowing terror. It could be that they are doing these to overthrow [the] duly constituted government," she said.
De Castro made her point as petitioners argued that terrorism does not satisfy the Constitution's definition of rebellion.
"If there is a political objective to overthrow the government, that would fall under rebellion," the magistrate said.
The executive branch had cited rebellion as the basis of President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of martial law in Mindanao, saying the terror groups sought to create an Islamic State province in Mindanao.
Under Article 134 of the Revised Penal Code, "rebellion or insurrection is committed by rising publicly and taking arms against the government for the purpose of removing from the allegiance to said Government or its laws the territory of the Philippine Islands or any part thereof, of any body of land, naval or other armed forces, depriving the Chief Executive or the Legislature, wholly or partially, of any of their powers or prerogatives."
Marlon Manuel, counsel for four Marawi women who petitioned Duterte's declaration, conceded to De Castro's observation but maintained that the declaration of martial law was unnecessary regardless of the terrorists' motives.
"The point, your honor, is regardless of the nature of the Maute group, martial law should be the last resort... The police and military can pursue the Maute group without martial law," Manuel said.
"Military might can be exercised without the imposition of martial law or the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus," he added.
As of Monday, 286 have died in the Marawi City gunfights, among them 202 terrorists, 58 government troops and 26 civilians. more than 200,000 residents have meanwhile fled the fighting.