MANILA - A former party-list lawmaker from the Left believes the extension of martial law in Mindanao requested by President Rodrigo Duterte is meant to shut down opposition and dissent.
Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna said the administration may even be inclined to expand martial law to the whole country after declaring the New People's Army a terrorist group.
"The target talaga dito are the opposition and dissent. Kasi si President Duterte is very intolerant of dissent," he told ANC Tuesday.
"Intolerant siya sa opposition based on facts. Pag may nagreklamo, nagsabi ng human rights, bibirahin niya," he added, citing Duterte's pronouncements against his critics.
But lawyer Salvador Panelo, Duterte's chief legal counsel, said the fear of Colmenares is "misplaced," and that the government's only goal in extending martial law is to quell rebellion.
Panelo said the request to extend martial law in Mindanao for one year is a recommendation by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police who know the situation on the ground.
"There is a factual ground for the declaration of martial law," he stressed, citing reports of Maute fighters allegedly recruiting and the NPA's alleged ambush of civilians.
Colmenares also argued that the Duterte administration has yet to specify what particular powers it wants to quell rebellion, something he says can be done even without martial law.
However, Panelo reminded the former lawmaker that martial law in Mindanao, which was declared when the siege of Marawi erupted, has been validated by the Supreme Court.
"They filed a motion for reconsideration, that motion for reconsideration has been denied. So in other words, all these arguments are nothing," he said.
Despite this, Colmenares said if Congress grants the 1-year martial law extension requested by Duterte for Mindanao, he will still question this before the high court.