MANILA – A spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Monday said extending martial law in Mindanao for 5 years may be too long but said the final decision will be up to the political leadership.
AFP spokesperson Restituto Padilla said the military will soon submit to Malacañang its recommendation on whether to extend or lift martial law based on operational objectives it had set when martial rule was declared last May 23.
"Before it makes a recommendation to the commander-in-chief, the AFP must have an intelligent basis to make whatever recommendation there is for extension or lifting," Padilla said in a news conference.
"We are sticking to some mission profiles that we were provided with at the very beginning of martial law."
Asked for his reaction to Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez's proposal to extend the martial law proclamation for the rest of the President’s term, Padilla said imposing martial law until 2022 "may be too long for the moment."
Padilla did not specify his reason for saying that the proposed 5-year extension period was too long, only saying that the power to decide on this rests on President Rodrigo Duterte and other political leaders.
"I don’t know the basis of our Speaker for calling the extension of martial law because extending this is a political decision,” he said.
"The Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces will make recommendations, but the [final] decision will come from the political leadership, which holds a wider array of considerations."
Padilla said the military will soon submit its recommendation to Duterte, as the 60-day period to impose the martial law under the Constitution is set to lapse on July 22.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier said the Constitution is clear that it is Congress that has the power to extend martial law and the President may only recommend.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, however, argued that in case Congress fails to extend the May 23 martial law declaration, Duterte can just issue another martial law proclamation since the Constitution does not explicitly state that the president can only declare martial law once.
Government offensives in Marawi City will enter its eighth week on Tuesday, July 11, but the Islamic State-linked terrorists have shown no signs of giving up despite relentless bombings and ground operations of state troops.
From the original number of forces of about 500, the military said the number of terrorists still holed up in the city is now down to about 80. These include leaders of the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon.
Padilla said even though government forces have made significant gains in the fight against terrorists holed up in the city, the security situation in the entire Mindanao will be considered in making recommendation on the extension of the martial law declaration.
"The structure which gives life to this rebellion is not only restricted to Marawi, which was only used by the terrorists as a base to launch its attacks," Padilla said. "Their network extends throughout Mindanao."
The military has been having a hard time retaking parts of Marawi still controlled by the terrorists, as snipers from the enemy side still lurk around the conflict zone. Government forces were also being careful in advancing towards enemy positions due to the presence of booby traps.
About 300 civilians, including the terrorists’ hostages, remain trapped in the battle zone, preventing state forces from going all-out against the enemies.
At least 507 people - 379 suspected terrorists, 39 civilians, and 89 government troops - have died since battles began.
While the government has put the civilian death toll at 39, the military believes this could “increase significantly” as troops have yet to reach other parts of the city where some trapped civilians were feared to have been executed.
About 400,000 civilians from Marawi and outlying areas have also been displaced as a result of the fighting.
As a prolonged battle with the terrorists is expected, government has started setting up a tent city to accommodate some of the city’s displaced residents.
The emergence of groups pledging allegiance to Islamic State has been considered the biggest security problem to face the year-old Duterte administration.
The rise of pro-ISIS groups in the country has also raised alarm in Washington and the Philippines’ neighbors in the region, which fear that the notorious terror group was seeking to establish a new front in Asia amid its successive losses in Iraq and Syria.