MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATED – 1:01 p.m.) Congress is prepared to act on President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law declaration in Mindanao, Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas said as he issued a notice to all members of the House of Representatives to “stay put in Manila” for sessions until Friday.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez welcomed the declaration, saying it showed the “resolve ng ating Pangulo na gawin kung ano iyong tama to address once and for all iyong terrorism na lumalala hindi lang dito sa Pilipinas kundi pati na rin sa ibang bansa (of our President to do what is right to address once and for all the terrorism that is worsening not just in the Philippines but in other countries.”
“As a Mindanaoan, yes, I fully believe na talagang may basehan iyong pagdeklara ng (that there is really basis to declare) martial law,” the Speaker,who is from Davao del Norte, added.
However, Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison cast doubts on Duterte’s reasons for the declaration and activist groups urged its lifting, saying martial law could only worsen the situation.
Duterte declared martial law over the whole of Mindanao Tuesday night following clashes between government forces and what authorities described as local terrorists in Marawi City.
Although the declaration is supposed to last 60 days, which is the maximum period in the 1987 Constitution, in a video posted by Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson before he flew out of Moscow, Duterte hinted that he might extend martial law for up to a year.
Alvarez hinted that lawmakers may go along with this, saying Congress will also assess if the 60-day constitutional limit needs to be shortened or lengthened.
He also agreed with martial law covering the entire island of Mindanao because while the violence is currently in Marawi, “terrorists I think are everywhere, I’m sure everywhere in Mindanao, if not the entire Philippines.”
“Under our Rules, our sessions are until Friday. The President will head back home ASAP, and we may have session as soon as we receive his official report,” Farinas said in a text message. He said he would would meet with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez Wednesday morning and seek a briefing on the situation from security officials.
Farinas said Congress has yet to receive an official report from Malacanang on the declaration. “We will have to wait for the report of the President in order for us to exercise our constitutional duty on the matter,” he said.
“In the meantime, we ask our people to remain calm and to keep safe,” he added.
The 1987 Constitution requires that, “within forty-eight hours from the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the President shall submit a report in person or in writing to the Congress.”
“The Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its Members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President. Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it,” it says.
Meanwhile, independent media outfit Kodao Productions reported that Sison warned Duterte not to emulate the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and use the Marawi clashes as a ruse to expand martial law to cover the entire country.
“Ganyan din ang ginawa noong 1971-1972 nang sinubukang disarmahan ang Kamorohan sa Marawi rin (That’s what happened in 1971-1972 when they attempted to disarm the Moro forces, it was in Marawi, too),” Sison said.
In a video taken by Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson before he flew out of Moscow after cutting short his visit to Russia, Duterte said, “… kayong mga kababayan ko (my countrymen) who have experienced martial law, it may not be too different from what President Marcos did … I’d be harsh…” he said.
But Sison warned that “Duterte is playing with fire if he thinks it (martial law) is a solution to Philippine problems.”
Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, warned that martial law was “open to all sorts of abuses by state security forces notorious for human rights violations.”
“It is a blanket endorsement of so many abuses arising from warrantless arrests, searches and seizures and the filing of trumped-up charges. It threatens to unleash more violence against the people,” he said.
Reyes also pointed to military claims of having the situation in Marawi under control.
“This makes the basis of martial law for the entire island of Mindanao even more questionable or suspect. The generals in the Duterte government seem to be preparing for a different scenario other than Marawi,” he said.
The human rights group Karapatan protested Duterte’s declaration, saying it “will not address the circumstances of the current situation in Marawi, but will aggravate the insecurity in the area.”
“Martial law is not the answer; it will never result to anything but gross violations of people’s rights,” it said.
Youth group Anakbayan urged people to “mobilize” on Wednesday and “light candles for the lives lost in Marawi and urgently call the attention of Duterte on the dangers of martial law.” It said it would spearhead a protest at the Mendiola Peace Arch in Manila and other urban centers.
Senators Joel Villanueva and Sherwin Gatchalian, on the other hand, backed Duterte’s martial law declaration.
But Villanueva, while saying he understood “why the situation calls for it due to the gravity of this horrific incident,” stressed that “much needs to be discussed on why putting Mindanao under the state of martial law is the best response for this crisis.”
“I believe that the President has the paramount interest of the Filipino people in mind in declaring martial law in Mindanao,” Gatchalian said.
“I am confident that the President, as a dutiful son of Mindanao, will pour his heart and soul into efforts to restore peace and order there as quickly as possible,” he said. “We must hold these despicable terrorists accountable for their crimes against humanity.”
Senator Francis Pangilinan, while acknowledging “martial law is an option available to the President and we respect this exercise of discretion,” said “Congress will exercise our constitutional duty to look into the basis of the declaration and determine whether or not there is basis for its continued imposition.”
“Central to all this is to ensure that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of our citizens are protected and that the exercise of the martial law powers of the President are checked,” he said.