THE VOTES VS MARTIAL LAW EXTENSION | Risa Hontiveros: We are a chamber of lawmakers, not Duterte’s echo chamber

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InterAksyon file photo of Sen. Ana Theresia "Risa" Hontiveros

On Saturday, July 22, the two chambers of Congress in joint session voted 261 for and 18 against the President’s proposal to extend martial law in Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2017. Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros was one of four senators who voted against it. Here’s her explanation.

Mr. Senate President, I vote no to extend the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao.

The AFP has been quite clear in demonstrating the threat of terrorism in Marawi. But while the threat is clear and the need for urgent response compelling, one thing remains unanswered: exactly how Martial law contributes to meeting this threat. Walang maisagot dito ang ating mga security advisers, na ang tanging nasabi ay kailangan ng “enhanced security-based operations.” It is absurd that we use ‘timeliness’ and ‘needs on the ground’ as a reason for Martial Law. Lahat yan kayang sagutin ng calling out powers ng pangulo. And, in any event, martial law does not suspend the bill of rights or allow the state to run roughshod on civil liberties. Absent any plausible explanation, I can only reach one conclusion: Martial Law has no strategic contribution to the military’s anti-terrorism operations in Marawi. Wala itong dinagdag o inambag sa operasyong militar, sa usaping logistics, o legal na kapangyarihan para maging mas epektibo ang kampanya laban sa terorismo. Wala rin itutulong ang ekstensyon nito.

Ang tangi lamang maidadagdag sana ng deklarasyon ng Martial Law sa Mindanao ay ipailalim sa kontrol ng militar ang mga lokal na pamamahala na nadiskaril dahil sa terorismo. But there are no local government units in Mindanao that have stopped working or have collapsed because of terrorism. Even the local government in Marawi, despite the enormous challenges it faces, is functioning under civilian rule. The LGU in Camiguin functions the same as the LGU in Metro Manila. I fear that the plan to extend the Martial Law in Mindanao will pave the way for a Philippines-wide Martial Law.

Buo ang tiwala ko sa kakayahan ng ating magigiting na sundalo. Kaya nilang sugpuin ang terorismo sa Marawi gabay ang kasalukuyang kapangyarihan ng Ehekutibo na i-mobilisa ang buong hanay ng Sandatahang Lakas ng Pilipinas. Hindi Martial Law ang tumatalo sa mga teroristang Maute kundi ang tapang, galing at determinasyon ng ating mga sundalo. Let us not rob our heroic soldiers of the glory they deserve by attributing our recent victories against terrorism to Martial Law.

I empathize with the desire for swift peace amid conflict. I can understand how, in the desperate desire to live a quiet life, free from any violence or fear, many of us have been driven to support any idea, however extreme, that claims to give peace. Fear got the best of many of us. But Martial Law is not the way to peace and democracy.

It is also not supposed to be a morale-booster for our troops. It is not a quick fix. It is not a political tool. It is not supposed to be ANYTHING on “steroids.” It reverses a very important Constitutional principle: that civilian authority must always be superior to military authority. Not the calling out power, not the declaration of a state of emergency, nor the Human Security Act can reverse this principle. Martial Law lang. And because it reverses this principle, it must be exercised only in the most exigent of circumstances as a last resort, and by a government that would wield it judiciously.

To my fellow legislators, history will judge what we decide in these halls today. I know many of you will vote to extend Martial Law. I would like to remind us all that we are here to be the voice of democracy not the President’s echoes. We are here to protect democracy not the despotic whims of one man. I would like to remind everyone of Marcos’ Martial Law when Congress abdicated its responsibility and was padlocked. We are a chamber of lawmakers not President Duterte’s echo chamber.

And so, because I have not seen any evidence that Martial Law offers any distinct strategic advantage to our soldiers in their fight against the Maute terrorists that other laws cannot offer, and because I cannot trust a government that has played God with the lives of 8-12 thousand Filipinos to wield Martial law judiciously, I vote no.