By Charissa Luci Atienza and Hannah Torregoza
Congress, in a joint session, approved on Wednesday President Duterte’s request to extend the martial law and suspend the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao from January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018.
A total of 240 Congress members voted in favor of the martial law extension, while 27 rejected it. The Senate voted 14-4, while House of Representatives voted 226-23 to approve martial law extension.
Before Congress acted on the request, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea justified why President Duterte is seeking to extend martial law in Mindanao.
“Despite the liberation of Marawi City, and the eerie silence in the main battlefield, a state of actual rebellion subsists in Mindanao, perpetrated not only by remnants of the Daesh-inspired DIWM (Da’watulIslamiyahWaliyatulMasriq), but also by other local and foreign terrorist groups, including the New People’s Army, and ready to explode anew at any given time,” Medialdea told the joint session.
“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,” he pointed out.
The Malacañang official clarified that they are not seeking “unlimited” martial law, but “unlimited” peace and stability in the strife-torn region.
“We do not ask for unlimited martial law, what we are seeking is unlimited peace,” Medialdea said.
Before the nominal voting, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and House Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas made a motion to further extend President Duterte’s martial law proclamation.
President Dutertefirst placed the entire Mindanao under martial law for 60 days when he signed Proclamation No. 216 on May 23, 2017, after the Maute terrorist group lay siege on Marawi City.
Before the 60-day period lapsed, the President sought its extension until December 31, 2017 – a request granted by Congress after 261 members favored it.
“Martial law may be a severe means of achieving peace but desperate times like these call for desperate measures,”Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said after voting in favor of President Duterte’srequest.
“The perpetual state of war in Mindanao has stunted economic growth, perpetrated poverty, and visited terrible tragedies upon our countrymen who live there. This heartbreaking state of affairs has gone on for far too long, Mindanaoans deserve the chance to live in peace,”Gatchalian said.
Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito said it is also evident that most law-abiding citizens in Mindanao favor martial law.
“War lords and private armies cannot move and lord it over the way they used to. Thousands of loose firearms problem need to be addressed to establish atmosphere conducive to business and tourism,” Ejercito said.
Nationwide martial law feared
But Liberal Party senators and congressmen and the seven-man Makabayan bloc of the House of Representatives vehemently opposed the new extension of martial law, saying it is “unconstitutional.”
Senator Francis Pangilinan, who was among the 28 interpellators, said the approval of the extension of the martial law is “contrary to the Constitution” and is considered as the Congress members’ “abdication of their sacred duty to act as checks and balances of the government.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon insisted that the extension of martial law until next year “does not find basis under the Constitution.”
He emphasized that under the Constitution, the Congress can extend the proclamation of martial law only when there’s actual rebellion, which he said requires actual public uprising and taking arms to overthrow the government.
“There is no state of rebellion. These are only threats at this point. Actual armed conflict is basic foundation for the continued imposition of martial law,” he said.
Responding to Drilon’s query, Deputy Executive Secretary MeynardoGuevarra explained that the President’s request is not based on assessment of existing threat, but on the basis of a continuing actual rebellion in Mindanao.
But Albay Rep. EdcelLagman said there is no factual basis for extending martial law.
“An extension of the period of martial law in Mindanao even for one day, much more for one full year, has no factual anchorage and constitutional basis,” he said in explaining his “No” vote for the martial law extension.
Buhayparty-list Rep. LitoAtienza also questioned the basis for granting the President’s request to extend the martial law.
“Where do you get the authority even to request for an extension? If the basis for proclamation is no longer Marawi, then it must start at 60 days again,” he said.
“Ang pananaw ko po at iniikutan nyo ang probisyon ng Konstitusyon, how can the extension be longer than the original? Do you request an extension or another proclamation?” he asked.
In his interpellation, Drilon raised concern over the inclusion of the National People’s Army (NPA) in the reasons for extending the martial law.
“The NPA conflict has been there for the last four decades nationwide but suddenly in the extension, the NPA is cited,” he noted.
“Is this now a prelude to declaring martial law nationwide?” he asked.
Bayan Munapartylist Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the extension of martial law would only further strengthen the Communist Party of the Philippine-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). “Martial law is the number one recruiter of the NPA,” he said.
While Drilon expressed apprehension over the martial law extension, Kusug-Tausug party-list Rep. Shernee Tan pushed anew for the nationwide declaration of martial law, citing the presence of NPAs in Luzon and Visayas.
“I reiterate my stand that martial law should be extended not just in Mindanao but also in Luzon and in Visayas if it serves to the best interest of our nation,” Tan said.
But National Security Adviser HermogenesEsperon Jr. and Defense SecretaryDelfinLorenzana both said that they don’t see martial law being imposed in Luzon and Visayas in the foreseeable future.
“Depende lagi sa situation. Pupunta ba sa Visayas o sa Luzon? (As always it depends on the situation. Will martial law come to Visayas and Luzon?) As of now, no,”Esperon told reporters in a chance interview just minutes after lawmakers gave its nod to the Palace request.
“But I’d like to express confidence also that it will not go to Visayas and Luzon,”Esperon said.
Lorenzana said there is no need to extend the martial law in Luzon and Visayas, citing the activities of NPA in both regions were “mininimal.”
“I think the reason the NPA in Mindanao are included is because of the intensity…kasi po malakas ‘yung…45 percent of the NPA in the whole Philippines are in Mindanao. And they are creating havoc, especially in eastern Mindanao,” Lorenzana said.
“In Visayas and Luzon,maliit lang po ‘yung activities ng CPP-NPA diyan, kaya I don’t think that there is a need toinclude Visayas and Luzon in the martial law,” he said.
He justified the continued extension of martial law, explaining that “the rebellion has not stopped, but just moved to another place.”
He even reported to the plenary that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has spent P4 billion for the implementation of martial law since President Duterte imposed it last May 23. He even sought for the reimbursement of their “operation” expenses so that they could replenish their stocks.
Akbayan partylist Rep. Tom Villarin feared that the act of Congress would lead to no-elections scenario in Mindanao. During the interpellation, Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero also expressed such concern, explaining that under the Omnibus Election Code, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) may suspend the elections if there is rebellion or terrorism.
But Deputy Executive Secretary Guevarra said the suspension of the barangay elections and the upcoming local elections in Mindanao “is under the purview of the Comelec as an independent constitutional body.”
Before Congress approved the extension, the Comelec said that if martial law is extended in Mindanao, it is likely to hold another public consultation to determine if there is a need to postpone the May 14, 2018 Barangay and SangguniangKabataan polls in the region.
“Independently, we will conduct another hearing as we had conducted in Davao the last time to see what the situation is on the ground, if we should suspend the holding of the election because of the state of lawlessness or rebellion,” Comelec Commissioner LuieGuia said in a press briefing Wednesday.
But Lorenzana assured that martial law will not be used to suspend the upcoming polls in Mindanao. (With reports from Vanne P. Terrazola, Mario B. Casayuran, Ellson A. Quismorio, and Leslie Ann G. Aquino)