MANILA, Philippines — The opposition bloc at the House of Representatives is urging President Rodrigo Duterte to immediately lift martial law in Mindanao following the deaths of Omarkhayam Maute and Isnilon Hapilon, the leaders of the terrorist groups that have been occupying portions of Marawi City since May.
“Martial law has lost its reason for being. It is no longer justified as the actual threat of terrorism no longer exists,” said the bloc composed of representatives Edcel Lagman of Albay, Teddy Baguilat Jr. of Ifugao, Raul Daza of Northern Samar, Emmanuel Billones of Capiz, Edgar Erice of Caloocan, Tom Villarin of Akbayan, and Gary Alejano of Magdalo.
“Prolonging it has unduly affected the basic rights of citizens to assemble peaceably for redress of grievances, to travel without restrictions and harassment, and for local tourism to be revived,” they added.
The lawmakers also stressed the need to address the concerns of over 200,000 internally displaced persons as a result of the fighting. They said their voices should be considered in the rehabilitation of the Lanao del Sur capital.
Duterte placed the entire region of Mindanao under martial law on May 23 after the Islamic-inspired Maute terrorists launched an attack in the city in a bid to establish a stronghold. The declaration was for 60 days. But before it expired, Congress voted to extend it for another five months or up to December 31, 2017.
On Tuesday, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Major General Restituto Padilla said there were still terrorists, including about 30 armed extremists, remaining in Marawi and other parts of Mindanao and keeping Southern Philippines under military rule would help the government pursue them and fast-track case buildup against the rebels.
“Malaking dagok sa kanila ang pagkawala ng lider na si Omar, gayundin ang mga kapatid nila pero hindi nangangahulugan na wala na sila sa picture. Alam natin na may mga simpatetikong grupo pa,” said Padilla.
[The death of their leader Omar and his siblings was a big blow to them but it doesn’t mean that they’re already out of the picture. We know that are still groups sympathetic to them.]
“We would like to assure the public that we are looking forward to the return of normalcy in Mindanao but there is a greater threat here to be addressed and the need for the maintenance of martial law in some parts is very important,” he added.
Nonetheless, the issue is something that requires political decision, according to Padilla.
He said the government would consult stakeholders, including the AFP, on whether martial law is still needed in the region and the military would also submit a recommendation.
WATCH A RELATED VIDEO REPORT BY NEWS5: