MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte has cited a lingering terror threat in Mindanao as well as the armed insurgency of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) as reasons for seeking the extension of martial law in the entire Mindanao for one more year.
In his letter to Congress dated December 8, Duterte said extending the martial law for another year will help the military and police deal with lawless armed groups better and ensure the safety of the public.
“A further extension of Martial Law and suspension of writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao will help the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), the Philippine National Police, and all other law enforcement agencies to quell completely and put an end to the ongoing rebellion in Mindanao and prevent the same from escalating to other parts of the country,” Duterte said in his letter.
“Public safety indubitably requires such further extension, not only for the sake of security and public order, but more importantly to enable the government and the people of Mindanao to pursue the bigger task of rehabilitation and the promotion of a stable socio-economic growth and development.”
The President said the defeat of the Islamic State-inspired Maute terrorists in the 5-month long Marawi siege did not necessarily spell the end to the terror threat in Mindanao, as remnants of the group and their supporters continued their recruitment and training of new members “to carry on the rebellion.”
He cited 185 personalities in the martial law arrest orders who remain at large and, “in all probability, are presently regrouping and consolidating their forces.”
Duterte also said the Islamic State-inspired Da’awatul Islamic Waliyatul Masriq has been monitored to be consolidating forces in Central Mindanao.
“These activities are geared towards the conduct of intensified atrocities and armed public uprisings in support of their objective of establishing the foundation of a global Islamic caliphate and of a Wilayat not only in the Philippines but also in the whole of Southeast Asia,” Duterte said.
The President cited the terror threat from the Turaifie Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and the Abu Sayyaf Group as another reason for his decision to seek the extension of martial law in Mindanao.
He said the BIFF, a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, was behind 15 violent incidents during the martial law period in Mindanao and North Cotabato and 89 violent incidents, mostly harassment of state troops and roadside bombings, since the year started.
The Abu Sayyaf Group, meanwhile, was behind 43 acts of terrorism, such as kidnappings and bombings, since the year started.
NPA AS TERRORIST GROUP
The President also accused the NPA of taking advantage of the Marawi siege to intensify their decades-long rebellion against the government.
He said the the NPA’s objective was to “seize political power through violent means and supplant the country’s democratic form of government with Communist rule.”
Duterte said the NPA perpetrated at least 385 atrocities since the year started, resulting in the deaths of 41 state troops and wounding of 62 others. Twenty-three civilians were also killed and 6 others were wounded as a result of the NPA’s atrocities, he added.
“These recent developments involving the NDF-CPP-NPA (National Democratic front-Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) forebode another year of intensified armed hostilities which, together with other security concerns and described above, continue to make Mindanao the hotbed of rebellion,” Duterte said.
Duterte in November cancelled peace talks with the communists, citing NPA’s continued attack on state forces. He also declared the CPP and NPA as terror organizations.
Opposition lawmakers have said there was no basis to further extend martial rule in Mindanao.
Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon said an extension of martial law would be unconstitutional.
"We cannot continuously place Mindanao under martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ [of habeas corpus] without an actual rebellion in the region," Drilon said in a statement.
Drilon, along with other minority senators, also said the proposed extension might hamper rebuilding efforts in Marawi City.
"Martial law, together with the air strikes, was the reason why they fled Marawi in the early days of the Maute siege. Lifting military rule, specifically in Marawi, will hasten the return of affected residents to their homes, according to its citizens," said Drilon and Senators Bam Aquino, Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan, and Antonio Trillanes IV in a joint statement.
Duterte first declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, when gun battles between government and Islamic State-linked terrorists erupted in Marawi City. In July, upon the lapse of the initial 60-day declaration, Congress extended it to Dec. 31 on Duterte's request.
Over 1,100 people, mostly Islamic State-inspired terror groups were killed in the siege, which also displaced over 300,000 residents from the city considered as the center of Islamic faith in Mindanao.