January 19, 2018, 4:10 am
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Congress okays 1-year martial law extension; Lawmakers vote 240-27 in joint session

CONGRESS yesterday granted President Duterte’s request to extend martial law (ML) in Mindanao for a year because of the continuing terror threats posed by ISIS-inspired groups and communist the New People’s Army which was recently declared a terrorist group.

In a three-hour joint session, congressmen and senators voted 240 against 27 approving Resolution of Both Houses No. 13 extending the President’s martial law proclamation until Dec. 31, 2018.

On the part of the House, 226 congressmen voted in favor the extension while 23 voted against it. Senators voted 14 against four.

It was the second time that the two houses convened in a joint session to extend martial law in Mindanao which was precipitated by the siege of Marawi City by members of the terrorist Maute Group.

Last July 23, lawmakers voted 261 against 18 to extend the martial law proclamation for six months. 

The Marawi conflict ended on October 23.

The extension will mark the longest period of martial law since the 1970s era of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who was among the four senators who opposed the extension, said the President’s power to declare martial law “must not be exercised whimsically or abitrarily.”

He questioned the duration of the extension now that Marawi City has already been liberated from terrorists.

“Is the martial law extension consistent with the Constitution? Our acts must always be consistent with the law and Constitution. This is what distinguishes us from terrorists, criminals or rebels who we seek to defeat,” Pangilinan said.

The other three are senators who voted against the extension were minority leader Franklin Drilon, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, and Risa Hontiveros.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told lawmakers that the Executive is not asking for “unlimited martial law.”

“What we are seeking is unlimited peace,” Medialdea said, adding the threats of rebellion continue in Mindanao even if the peace and order situation in Marawi City has begun to normalize.

Despite the death of Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon and the Maute leaders and fighters, he said the Daesh-inspired Da’awatul Islamiyah Waliyatul Masriq “continue to rebuild their organization through recruitment and conduct financial and logistical build-up.”

“Public safety requires a further extension of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao, in order to quell this rebellion completely,” Medialdea said.

He said that among those in the arrest order are 185 suspected jihadists who are likely consolidating their forces.

Medialdea said Hapilon’s potential successor as ISIS emir in Southeast Asia, Turaifie, has organized a group monitored to be planning to launch bombings, possibly in Cotabato.

He said the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters also continues to operate, and the remnants of the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi also remain a serious security concern.

Medialdea also cited the NPA’s attacks as one of the reasons behind the Executive’s request to extend Presidential Proclamation No. 216.

“It was these atrocities that compelled the President to declare the NDF-CPP-NPA as (a) terrorist organization,” he said.

MARTIAL LAW NATIONWIDE?

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana rejected the proposal of Rep. Shernee Tan (PL, Kusug Tausug) to place the entire country under martial law, saying the NPA threat in Luzon and Visayas is “manageable.”

“In Visayas and Luzon, the CPP-NPA’s activities are manageable and that’s why I don’t think that would be (advisable) to spread (martial law) or to include Visayas and Luzon in the (coverage of) martial law,” he said.

President Duterte thanked Congress for the extension and said it would be “impossible” for government to curb rebellion and terrorism in Mindanao without martial law.

Asked if there is a possibility of a martial law declaration covering the whole country because the NPA is not limited to Mindanao, he said “all options are on the table.”

He made the statement in an interview at the Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio where guns recovered from the Maute were destroyed.

He said there would also be a need to continuously assess the situation. 

He reiterated the NPA rebels are not considered rebels or criminals but terrorists.

Duterte on Tuesday night warned anew of possible terror attacks as armed groups had reportedly been massing up in parts Central Mindanao like Cotabato and Maguindanao.

“You watch out for it in the coming days,” Duterte said at a Christmas party that he hosted for members of the Malacañang Press Corps, Malacañang Cameramen Association, and Presidential Photographers’ Association in Malacañang.

The President said the Marawi attack was just a “flashpoint” and there are threats of possible attacks in other parts of Mindanao.

Lorenzana said the extension of martial law will allow the “unhampered reconstruction and rehabilitation” of Marawi City.

“The challenges we are facing in Mindanao are also challenges to each and every Filipino. Together, as a nation, we will prevail and prove to the world our collective resilience against odds,” Lorenzana also said.

Armed Forces public affairs chief and acting spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said martial law is needed “to quell the ongoing rebellion in Mindanao and prevent its spread to other parts of the country.” – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Victor Reyes
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