(UPDATED — 12:14 a.m., Dec. 13, 2017) MANILA, Philippines — Politicians and concerned groups with contrasting views on extending martial law explained their positions on the issue a day before the Senate and the House of Representatives convene and decide on President Rodrigo Duterte’s request for military rule to continue in Mindanao after the defeat of Islamist extremists in Marawi.
On the opposite sides of the political fence are opposition senators and activist and leftist groups, who are against the extension, and pro-administration lawmakers led by Senate president Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and the military, who are backing Duterte’s request to prolong martial law in the South for one more year.
First, it’s the ISIS-inspired local terrorists, now, it includes NPA, its coddlers, financiers, and supporters
The President’s current basis for extending military rule is different from the reasons he gave Congress after he declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, 2017.
In his May 25 report to Congress, Duterte justified martial law imposition in the region by citing the then ongoing clashes in Marawi between government troops and local terror groups led by Maute, whose end goal was to remove Mindanao “from its allegiance to the Government” and establish a wilayat or ISIS province in the South.
But in his December 8 letter to Senate and House leaders, the President said that besides the ISIS-inspired local terror groups, “communist terrorists” or the New People’s Army (NPA) along with their “coddlers, supporters, and financiers,” are also out to “seize political power through violent means and supplant the country’s democratic form of government with Communist rule.”
Activist groups led by the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) are fearing that Duterte’s desire to extend martial law in Mindanao is a prelude to his nationwide dictatorial rule.
MAT said that “it is likely that he (Duterte) is now reverting to his original plan to impose martial law nationwide in order to establish his very own dictatorship” after the failure of the administration’s alleged plot to establish a revolutionary government to pave the way for the President’s autocratic rule.
Colmenares: ML extension’s real targets are Duterte’s critics
Former Bayan Muna party-list lawmaker Neri Colmenares shares the same apprehension. He thinks that the target of the impending extension of martial law are those who criticize the Duterte administration as the President also extended the targets of martial law to non-armed leftists.
“The target talaga dito [targets here really] are the opposition and dissent,” Colmenares told ANC on Tuesday, adding that Duterte “is very intolerant of dissent.”
“Intolerant siya sa opposition based on facts. Pag may nagreklamo, nagsabi ng human rights, bibirahin niya [He is intolerant of the opposition based on facts. If there are people who complain, discuss about human rights, he would assail them],” he said, also fearing that the proposed martial law extension in the South could be expanded nationwide.
For MAT, Duterte’s “wide police powers” and and “extraordinary calling out powers on the military” are enough to strengthen law enforcement, ensure public safety and security, conduct counterinsurgency campaigns, or address threats of lawless violence.
As to the supposed heightened activities of the NPA, which the group said “is nothing new,” the President could address this “through comprehensive peace negotiations rather than all-out war,” according to MAT.
Lacson: ML extension fails actual rebellion and threat to public safety requirements
At the Upper House, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that based on his and his colleagues’ “evaluation,” it appears that Duterte’s basis for extending martial law does not meet constitutional requirements.
“(S)a evaluation, sa aming pagtingin, sa mga senador, kung titingnan natin strictly on the basis of the provision ng Constitution, mukhang kulang sa basehan na mag-extend pa ng martial law,” Lacson said.
The senator explained that according to the 1987 Charter, as discussed by the Supreme Court in its ruling in the case of Lagman vs Medialdea, the imposition of martial law can only be justified if there “is actual invasion or rebellion.”
“Kalimutan ang invasion. Ang rebellion kailangan actual [Let’s forget about invasion. Rebellion needs to be actual],” said Lacson.
Also, the senator said that based on the same ruling, martial law could only be prolonged if public uprising persists and public safety requires such extension.
Lacson said that based on the briefing on the extension of martial law held at the House on Tuesday, it appeared that the basis for prolonging martial rule failed to meet the requirements of actual rebellion and threat to public safety.
“Sa explanation nila kung pagbabasehan natin ang kanina sa briefing nila mukhang kinakapos sa actual rebellion at saka public safety,” he said.
“Pag sinabi mo kasing public safety ang nire-refer mo general public, hindi lang ang publiko sa isang maliit na lugar [If you say public safety, you are referring to the general public, not just the public in one small place],” added Lacson.
Like MAT and Colmenares, Lacson warned of the “danger” of Duterte expanding martial law nationwide, following the President’s move to include the NPA as among the government’s terrorist targets.
He said that if for instance, the military clashes with the NPA outside of Southern Philippines, say in Nasugbu, Batangas or in Sorsogon, it is possible that Congress, to be consistent in its decision, will likewise allow martial law to be implemented outside Mindanao.
“Halimbawa, may nagbarilan NPA at military sa Nasugbu Batangas. Para maging consistent ang Kongreso, papayagan namin mag-ML sa Nasugbu o sa Sorsogon kung saan nagkakaroon ng clashes kung ‘yan ang justification.”
“Now what will prevent the government or administration from declaring ML in other areas outside of Mindanao?” added Lacson.
The NPA was not mentioned in first ML declaration, so how can ML extension be justified?
The senator said that while the NPA had been tagged as a terrorist group, Duterte did not include the threat from the rebels as among his reasons in declaring martial law last May.
Lacson said it could be “more appropriate” for Duterte to impose another martial law and not just extend his declaration because the President did not mention the NPA in justifying his need to impose military rule in the South during his first proclamation.
“Kasi kailangan ang conditions na nagpe-prevail pareho sa original reasons or conditions noong nag-declare, noong nag-proclaim. Eh di nabanggit ang NPA noon…Nag-e-extend ka eh…dapat naroon ang NPA sa original” the senator explained.
[Because the prevailing conditions should be the same with the original reasons or conditions when you declared or proclaimed martial law. But the NPA was not mentioned before…You extended it…the NPA should have been there in your first declaration.]
‘Psychological impact isn’t an ML basis under the Charter’
Opposition senators Franklin Drilon and Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV also believe that there’s no factual basis for the President to extend martial law in Mindanao.
“(T)he factual conclusion was validated in today’s briefing where the security forces said that the threat is continuing that martial law has psychological impact in the performance of their duty, unfortunately these are not sufficient basis under the constitution to extend martial law,” said Drilon.
“Many of us feel and believe that they can do their jobs as they have been doing jobs properly, with or without Martial Law, hindi po kinakailangan nito [this is not needed],” said Aquino.
“Of course, ‘yong iba po nagsasabi, kailangan nila ‘yan para sa psychological boost. But unfortunately, malinaw po ‘yong basehan sa ating Konstitusyon kung bakit po dapat ituloy ang Martial Law at hindi, at iyon ho ‘yong aming basehan dito sa aming desisyon,” he added.
[Of course, others say that’s needed for psychological boost. But unfortunately, it’s clear that the basis in our Constitution on why martial law should be continued does not include that.]
Alvarez: No reason to thumb down ML extension
During a briefing on Tuesday at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City, defense and security officials told lawmakers that the one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao would give the military the elbow room to address the various armed threats in the region.
The closed-door briefing was led by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Armed Forces chief of staff Rey Leonardo Guerrero, Philippine National Police deputy chief for operations Ramon Apolinario and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency director general Alex Paul Monteagudo.
A news conference was held after the briefing with Alvarez saying that he saw no reason to thumb down Duterte’s request for martial law extension.
“Iyong rebellion, matagal na sa amin ‘yan kaya nga hindi kami nakakaahon, may dagdag pa ngayon na terrorism [Rebellion has long been our problem, that’s why we can’t rise from the rut and now there’s another problem of terrorism],” the House leader from Mindanao said.
With the region under martial law, Alvarez said the people “feel safer.”
He added that martial law does not have any negative impact on tourism and businesses. “In fact, sa tingin ko mas dumami pa ang turista ngayon [In fact in my view, there are more tourists now],” he said.
Koko also supports ML extension
Also during the press conference, House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the “general sentiment (among congressmen) was overwhelmingly in favor of extension,” especially among Mindanao lawmakers.
“Ang tanong, bakit hindi six months? Sa military naman, ‘kami nga, ang gusto namin three months lang.’ But we don’t want to experience again what happened on July 22 when they asked for extension . . . para hindi istorbo, humingi na sila ng one year, para may elbow room ng kaunti,” he said.
[The question is why not six months? The military in fact just wants to extend it for three months. But we don’t want to experience again what happened on July 22 when they asked for extension…they should ask for one year so there will be no disturbance and there will be some elbow room.]
Also, Senate president Aquilino “Koko”Pimentel III on Tuesday said he was convinced with the basis cited by Duterte in his desire to extend martial law.
“There is rebellion on the ground and then public safety requires it,” said Pimentel.
“There is rebellion in Mindanao. Ang manifestation niya [The manisfestation of that] was the siege in Marawi but the rebels are still there. Ando’n pa ‘yong Daiwa Islamiyah or ‘yong Daesh affiliate. May Maute group pa…May ASG pa [The Daiwa Islamiyah or the Daesh affiliate is still there. There’s also the Maute group and the Abu Sayyaf Group]. These are the rebel forces still operating in Mindanao,” he added.
The House and the Senate will convene on Wednesday, December 13, at 9 a.m., and are expected to approve the martial law extension being sought by the President.