MANILA (3rd UPDATE) - The Senate and the House of Representatives granted Wednesday President Rodrigo Duterte's request to extend martial law in Mindanao until the end of 2019.
A total of 235 lawmakers voted in favor of extending martial law again, 28 voted negative, and only one abstained. The joint session was held on the second to the last day of Congress sessions this year.
The President last Dec. 6 asked Congress to allow martial law to remain in place in Mindanao to quell terrorist groups that "continue to defy the government by perpetrating hostile activities."
While martial law led to "significant progress" in the peace and order situation in Mindanao, the latest security assessment pointed to the need to keep it in force.
In his request for a third martial law extension, Duterte cited several fatal bombings in the south, including the ones in Lamitan City in Basilan, Isulan in Sultan Kudarat, and in General Santos City in the past few months.
Duterte first declared martial law in Mindanao when firefights erupted between state troops and terrorists in Marawi City in May 2017.
The original martial law declaration was supposed to last only for 60 days, as indicated in the Constitution, but Congress voted to extend it until the end of 2017 to help troops end the occupation of Marawi City.
In late 2017, Duterte requested for another extension until the end of 2018, saying the militants were regrouping despite the end of clashes.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo welcomed Congress’ approval of the extension request.
“Public safety demands decisive action from our President, whose primordial mandate is to protect and serve the people. Further, it is our shared responsibility to ensure the integrity of our nation, the security of our people and the sustained growth and development of Mindanao,” Panelo said in a statement.
Panelo said rights and liberties of citizens will be respected and that uniformed services will be confined to their mandates.
During the joint session, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea defended the martial law extension as government was "at the cusp of ending rebellion in Mindanao."
Allowing terrorist groups and rebels to "regroup" will only hamper the delivery of services in Mindanao, he said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said there was "no reason to doubt" the military on the need for martial law.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman from the opposition said another extension of martial law showed the failure of the military and the police to achieve their objectives.
"I think this undue prolongation of martial law in Mindanao would amount to perpetuity, considering the length of time this declaration and extension had been made," Lagman said.
"It is an admission by the military and police authorities that they have failed to achieve the purported objectives of martial law," the lawmaker added.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon opposed the extension, citing "very disturbing thoughts" that top security officials told lawmakers in a meeting on Tuesday.
Drilon said he was bothered when senators were told that martial law "makes governance more effective."
"This cannot be the new normal for Mindanao," added Senator Francis Escudero, saying economic progress in the region could be achieved without martial law.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, maintained that there is a continuing rebellion in Mindanao, which merits the President’s position to again ask for a martial law extension in the region.
“Continuing ang rebellion, and rebellion is a continuing crime. Ang talagang nakapagpa-convince siyempre ano situation ngayon compared to situation before the Marawi siege nabulaga sila roon. And when I read the jurisprudence, the SC ruling, wala akong nakitang legal impediment para magpatuloy ang martial law,” he said.
Makabayan bloc lawmakers said they feared a rise in alleged human rights violations in the region under martial law.
Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao said there were at least 155 cases of violations filed before the Commission on Human Rights, including the massacre of 8 Lumad people in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.
"The claims and the basis for another extension of martial law is a prelude to a martial law ad infinitum (without limit). Thus, ad infinitum of human rights violations to the people who are against [it]," he said.
Opposition sectoral lawmakers Rep. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna and Rep. Emmi De Jesus of Gabriela also slammed the "recycled" reasons cited by Duterte.
House Speaker Gloria Arroyo, meanwhile, cut off congressmen who went past the 1 minute time limit to explain their votes for or against the extension of martial law.
First to taste Arroyo’s strict enforcement of the time limit was Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano.
Others Arroyo also cut off were Zarate, Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, QC Rep. Kit Belmonte, Camsur Rep. Gabriel Bordado, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, Lanao del Sur Rep. Khalid Dimaporo, Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago, Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin, and Iligan Rep. Frederick Siao.
Marawi mayor says extension necessary
Marawi City Mayor Majul Usman Gandamra said another extension of martial rule was "needed as long as the rights of our people are being respected."
"I would say 6 months to one year is enough for us to really contend resurgence of another Maute group," he said.
"Hindi lang kasundaluhan o kapulisan ang dapat makilahok dito, kundi pati rin ang mga sibilyan ay dapat tumulong. We have to be socially responsible and accountable."
(The military and the police are not the only ones who should be involved, civilians should also help. We have to be socially responsible and accountable.)
Gandamra added that the previous extension of martial law did not hinder his city government's functions and that they did not receive any report of human rights violation.
"So far, after a year of [the] declaration of martial law, I would say that there is no report of any violations of the rights of people. On the part of the city government, we did not not receive any complaint," he said.
"In terms of delivery of services that the city government is obliged to do so, I would say it’s still the same. There's no negative impact on the governance of my city."
--With reports from Sherrie Ann Torres and RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News