TO nobody’s surprise, the two houses of Congress yesterday granted President Duterte’s request to extend martial law implementation in Mindanao and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in the area for another year.
In a joint session at the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City, congressmen and senators voted 235-28 with one abstention in favor of the motions of House majority leader Rolando Andaya Jr. and Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri.
The motion sought to extend martial law implementation in Mindanao from Dec. 31, 2018 to Dec. 31, 2019.
Those who voted against an extension said there is no reason to extend the implementation of martial law again because there is no rebellion and public safety is not in danger.
President Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, 2017 after the Maute terror group attacked Marawi City and later occupied several barangays. He asked for a five-month extension that lasted until Dec. 31, 2017 after the 60-day declaration lapsed in July. A second extension was granted by the Congress, continuing the period of martial law until Dec. 31, 2018.
Government forces defeated the Maute after five months of battle that killed some 1,000 terrorists, government troopers, and civilians.
The joint session, which was held from 9:30 a.m. to around 2 p.m., was presided over by Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
On the part of the House, 223 congressmen voted for the extension, 23 voted against it, and no one abstained.
Twelve senators voted to approve the President’s request while five senators voted against it and one abstained.
Those who voted against the motion were Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Francis Pangilinan, Paolo Benigno Aquino, Risa Hontiveros, and Francis Escudero.
Senate President pro tempore Ralph Recto abstained.
Those who voted for the extension were Sotto, Zubiri, Gregorio Honasan II, Panfilo Lacson, Richard Gordon, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, Aquilino Pimentel III, Jose Victor Ejercito, Juan Edgardo Angara, Sherwin Gatchalian, and Manny Pacquiao.
Senators Nancy Binay and Joel Villanueva were present during the joint session but had to leave before the voting. Absent were Senators Loren Legarda who is sick and Antonio Trillanes IV who is abroad.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said that under the 1987 Constitution, martial law “is an extraordinary measure imposed only under the extreme situation of actual rebellion or invasion and only for a limited period.”
Pangilinan said in the second request for extension, government said the rehabilitation of Marawi would go unimpeded under martial law.
“This is clearly shown to be untrue. After over one year-and-a-half of martial law, this administration has yet to show rehab in full swing and concrete projects meant for the rehabilitation of Marawi,” he said.
He added: “We must go after the enemies of the state by enforcing and upholding our laws not by disregarding the very laws we are sworn to enforce and defend. By setting aside the laws on bending it in pursuit of our enemies, I’m afraid that we end up becoming the dragons that we seek to defeat.”
Sen. Francis Escudero, said he sees no new strong basis to extend martial law.
Escudero reiterated the Constitution empowers the President to declare the country or parts of it under martial rule only in case of “invasion or rebellion when public requires it,” and not to maintain peace and order, to improve the economy, or because the people want it.
“Mindanao can achieve and has already achieved progress and peace through the efforts of the administration not because of martial law because it can do and not do the same things with or without martial law. Can we not maintain this norm without resorting to extra ordinary measures?” he said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the latest extension poses a new set of threats “specifically because the new extension period will cover the May 2019 elections.”
“Extending the proclamation of martial law in Mindanao may greatly benefit the political allies of President Rodrigo Duterte in the 2019 elections,” she also said.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said with the extension, Malacañang expects government “to achieve substantial progress in addressing the persisting rebellion in Mindanao, as well as promoting the overall security and peace and order situation in the island.”
“Rest assured that the fundamental rights and liberties of our citizens shall at all times be respected and that our uniformed services shall act strictly within the confines of their mandate,” he said.
Panelo maintained that the extension is purely intended for the general welfare and well being of the people of Mindanao.
“Public safety demands decisive action from our President, whose primordial mandate is to protect and serve the people. Further, it is our shared responsibility to ensure the integrity of our nation, the security of our people and the sustained growth and development of Mindanao,” he added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who is the martial law administrator, assured the public that government forces will continue to respect human rights.
“The AFP will continue to uphold its mandate of defending the sovereignty of our state, upholding the integrity of our territory and protecting the democratic way of life of our people, with full respect for human rights, international humanitarian law and the primacy of the rule of law,” he said.
AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the request for extension is not meant only to sustain economic gains owing to improved peace and security in Mindanao.
“It also responds positively to the clamor of local government executives to extend martial law implementation in the island because of law and order it provides to their constituents,” said Arevalo.
PNP chief Oscar Albayalde said: “This is a good day for the people of Mindanao to be assured of another full year of peace and security against the imminent threat of violence from extremist and communist terrorist forces.”
Albayalde said police operations against communist and terrorists “will continue without let-up in support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the local government units.”
Communist party founding chairman Jose Maria Sison said “the Duterte drive for fascist dictatorship is proceeding on schedule” with the extension of martial law.
“This prepares martial law nationwide, which ensures Duterte control of the results of the elections if any and the `cha-cha’ (charter change) for fascist dictatorship under the guise of a bogus kind of federalism,” added Sison.
(WENDELL VIGILIA and RAYMOND AFRICA With Jocelyn Montemayor and Victor Reyes, Malaya)