Congress opens joint session on martial law extension

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Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, seen presiding over a joint session of Congress on the martial law extension. Senators balk at the House proposal to convene into a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution, and have the two chambers vote on these jointly. (File photo by Bernard Testa, InterAksyon)

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 5 – 12:17 p.m.) Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III opened Wednesday morning, December 13, the joint session of Congress that will debate and decide on President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao for another year.

With a pro-administration super majority controlling both houses of Congress, the extension is expected to be approved despite objections by opponents of the move who say doing so would be unconstitutional.

Both chambers declared quorums, with 14 senators and 216 representatives present when the rolls were called.

The joint session adopted the same rules they used on July 22, when martial law was first extended.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea will deliver an opening statement after which lawmakers will be allowed to question security officials attending as resource persons.

The resource persons are Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces chief General Rey Leonardo Guerrero, Department of Interior and Local Government officer-in-charge Catalino Cuy, and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon.

Duterte first declared martial law for 60 days on May 23, when fighting broke out between government forces and extremist gunmen in Marawi City, and then got Congress to extend this until the end of the year when the original period ran out with hostilities still raging.

Recently, however, the military and police recommended the yearlong extension, from January 1 to December 31 next year, citing the continued threat not only from extremists who survived the Marawi battle but also from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the Abu Sayyaf, and communist rebels.

In his statement, Medialdea laid down the same justifications, maintaining that “a state of rebellion subsists in Mindanao” and that “public safety requires a further extension of martial law” to “quell this rebellion completely.”

He noted, among others, that of some 300 persons in an arrest list issued after martial law was declared, 185 remain at large and are believed to be recruiting and training new fighters and planning more attacks.

The BIFF, on the other hand, were responsible for at least 15 violent incidents in the Central Mindanao provinces while the Abu Sayyaf remains active in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

As for the New People’s Army, Medialdea said the communists took advantage of the situation by intensifying their attacks, committing 385 “atrocities,” including arson that destroyed an estimated P2.2 billion worth of property.

“We do not ask for an unlimited martial law,” Medialdea said. “What we are seeking is an unlimited peace.”

READ MEDIALDEA’S OPENING STATEMENT: