MANILA, Philippines — Is the inclusion of the New People’s Army as a “factual basis” for President Rodrigo Duterte’s seeking the yearlong extension of martial law in Mindanao the prelude to extending its coverage to the whole country?
Grilling government security officials at the joint session of Congress to deliberate Duterte’s request on Wednesday, December 13, Senate Minority leader Franklin Drilon noted: “The President cited the NPA for the first time in this extension, it was not cited in its orginal request.”
“Is this now a prelude to declaring martial law nationwide?” he asked.
Duterte first declared martial law for 60 days over Mindanao after fighting broke out between government forces and extremist gunmen loyal to the Islamic State in Marawi City on May 23. Two months later, he sought and got Congress’ approval for an extension until the end of this year.
Early this month, despite having declared Marawi liberated, the military and police recommended another year’s extension, citing the continuing threat not just from extremists who survived Marawi but also from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the Abu Sayyaf and the communist rebels.
Duterte, who had resumed peace talks with the communists, has terminated the negotiations and declared the rebels a terrorist group.
In his opening statement to the joint session, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who accompanied the security officials, maintained that, notwithstanding the liberation of Marawi, a “state of actual rebellion subsists in Mindanao,” thus requiring the extension of military rule.
Among others, he cited the 385 “atrocities” committed by th NPA in Mindanao, including 59 incidents of arson that destroyed P2.2 billion in properties.
Senator Risa Hontiveros also asked why the communists were made a basis for martial law’s extension when presidential spokesman Harry Roque and, before him, former Armed Forces spokesman Edgard Arevalo, had declared them a spent force.
But Lorenzana said they “did not know where Secretary Roque … got his facts” about the communists being a spent force when, he stressed, “there is an intensification” in rebel activity, which is why they have been branded terrorists and declared one of the bases for extending martial law.