Congress votes overwhelmingly for one year of martial law

By Jess Diaz

 Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez react after the counting of House votes. Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — As expected, the administration-dominated Senate and House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved yesterday President Duterte’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao by one year.

As contained in Joint Resolution No. 13, martial rule is extended from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2018. This is the second extension of the President’s martial law declaration in May, with the first ending at the end of this month.

The resolution also extended by one year the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, which authorizes state forces to conduct warrantless arrests.
Lawmakers voted 240-27 to approve the joint resolution. Fourteen senators voted yes, while four opposed it. In the House, 226 members supported the measure, while 23 voted against. The two chambers voted jointly on martial law issues.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel lll presided over the joint session. Majority leaders Vicente Sotto lll of the Senate and Rodolfo Fariñas of the House presented the motion to lengthen the imposition of martial law.

At the start of session, administration officials led by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea defended the President’s extension request.

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Medialdea said the “Chief Executive and commander of all armed forces” was asking for an extension “despite great strides achieved by government forces in suppressing lawless violence and rebellion in Mindanao.”

He said that while the Mautes and other terrorist groups have been “substantially neutralized and the main battle area in Marawi City has been liberated, terrorist threats remain.”

“Remnants of these groups continue to rebuild through recruitment and training and fund-raising. They are consolidating their forces,” Medialdea said.

He added that the Islamic State (IS)-inspired Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters “continues to commit acts of violence, while the Abu Sayyaf remains a serious security concern.”

Medialdea pointed out that the New People’s Army (NPA) took advantage of the situation in Mindanao by stepping up its recruitment, training and offensive activities.

“In sum, the factual basis for martial law as affirmed by Congress and the Supreme Court continues to exist. There is still a state of rebellion ready to explode anew at any time,” he said.

“Public safety requires the extension of martial law. We do not ask for an unlimited martial law. What we are seeking is unlimited peace,” he stressed.

Medialdea, assisted by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and other defense, security, intelligence and Cabinet officials, answered questions from senators and House members and addressed their concerns.

Their debates focused on the factual and constitutional bases for Duterte’s martial law extension request.

Questioning the President’s plea, Sen. Franklin Drilon called attention to the declaration made by Duterte in October that Marawi City “has been liberated from terrorist influence.”

Following the declaration, he said the military announced the termination of combat activities in the city.

The Senate minority leader asserted that there is “no actual rebellion or public uprising against the government,” conditions set by the Constitution for declaring or prolonging martial law.

He said the grounds cited by Duterte and Medialdea for extending martial law are “mere threats” that the administration and state forces could handle without martial law.

Drilon elicited an admission from Lorenzana that the situation in Marawi has not “substantially changed” since the President and the military declared the liberation of the city and the end of hostilities.

Lorenzana, however, was quick to clarify that since then, terrorist threats have spread to neighboring areas, an assertion that military officials supported.

Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra called attention to the Supreme Court decision affirming the President’s martial law declaration in May.

He said the tribunal noted pockets of terrorist activities in Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Cotabato and other parts of Mindanao, not just in Marawi City.

“All these suggest that rebellion has spilled over to other areas. The termination of conflict in Marawi is not conclusive evidence that the rebellion has ended,” he said.

Before the joint session ended, and after the votes were counted, Sotto asked for a second round of voting so that Sens. Francis Escudero and Cynthia Villar could manifest their yes votes for martial law extension.

But Drilon opposed Sotto’s motion and inquired: “If we allow that, when would the voting end?”

Sotto said he would not insist, since he has already mentioned anyway that his two colleagues were for extending martial rule.

CAR backs extension

Lawmakers in the highland Cordillera region allied with the administration have expressed support for the extension of martial law in Mindanao.

“It is the clamor of (the people) of Mindanao and I have to stand by them,” Abra Rep. Joseph Sto. Niño Bernos said, adding that Mindanaoans perfectly know “what is best for them.”

Kalinga Rep. Allen Jesse Mangaoang, concurrently the caretaker congressman for Mountain Province, vowed to vote in favor of the extension after getting apprised through the House hearing on Tuesday about the real score in the south.

Mangaoang explained that his vote was prompted by how all Mindanaoan congressmen endorsed the extension 100 percent.

Visayan bloc majority favor ‘will of Mindanaoans’

A majority of Visayan bloc members are in favor of extending martial law in Mindanao, its convenor Negros Occidental 3rd District Rep. Alfredo Benitez has said.

Abang Lingkod party-list Rep. Stephen Paduano of Negros Occidental also disclosed that almost all Mindanaoan lawmakers support the extension for one year and they have to support their position.

“We in the Visayas don’t have the moral authority to question the will of Mindanaoans,” said Paduano, who used to be the national commander of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade, a breakaway faction of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), which entered into peace talks with the government.

Negros Occidental 2nd District Rep. Rafael Leo Cueva said the government, through the military, needs more time to reduce the threat of the IS group to make a comeback, which can also fast-track the development of Marawi.

ComVal, PCL welcome move

Compostela Valley Gov. Jayvee Tyron Uy yesterday welcomed the move to extend martial law in his region for another year in an effort to further strengthen the fight against terrorists.

“We welcome the extension… We feel safer and better. We think it is for the best interest of our people, especially long-term,” Uy, whose jurisdiction is largely a mining area and considered a hotbed of NPA rebels, told The STAR.

Uy, however, was quick to point out that they based their support for martial law extension mainly on the lower crime rate in his area.

“Besides, there was no report of any military abuses in my area of responsibility since martial law was declared last May,” he said, adding that with martial law in place, the military and the police have also been more visible.

The Philippine Councilors League of the Philippines also expressed strong support for extension.

The PCL endorsed to the President its all-out support for the recommendation of the Department of National Defense and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) on the martial law extension regardless of its duration.

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