DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 13 December) — With 240 voting in favor and 27 against, the Joint Session of Congress on Wednesday granted President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to extend martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao until 31 December 2018.
The extension until yearend 2018 brings to 19 months or 587 days the duration of martial law over Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities, from 60 days when Duterte declared martial law on May 23, Day 1 of the Marawi Crisis.
“What we are asking is not unlimited martial law. What we seek is unlimited peace,” Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said.
But those opposing the extension expressed fears what will happen is precisely an “unlimited” extension of martial law.
Buhay party list Rep. Lito Atienza noted that if extension of one year will be allowed, then it will be again extended to two years or more. The 1987 Constitution, he pointed out, did not contemplate an indefinite martial law.
“Never again should any President be allowed to utilize martial law indefinitely,” he said.
Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra argued that there is no provision in the Constitution that limits extension of martial law to 60 days.
President Duterte declared martial law on May 23 citing rebellion in Marawi. On October 17, a day after Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the alleged Emir of the ISIS in East Asia, and Omar Maute of the Maute Group were killed, Duterte announced that Marawi City has been “liberated from the terrorist influence.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced the termination of all combat operations in Marawin on October 23.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the Constitution provides that in declaring martial law, there must be actual rebellion. “There is no actual rebellion or invasion in Mindanao to justify an inordinately long extension,” he said.
Senate Minority leader Franklin Drilon asked if including the New People’s Army as among the reasons for the extension was a prelude to declaration martial law nationwide.
Senator Francis Pangilinan acknowledged that martial law may be popular in many areas but popular or not, it must be based on the Constitution.
He said Congress might end up becoming lawbreakers and “the monsters we seek to defeat.”
The House of Representatives voted 226 – 23 while the Senate voted 14 – 4, bringing to 240 the total number of those who voted “yes” and 27 who voted “no.”
The “yes” votes represent 89.89% of the total, a drop from 93.55% in the July vote of 261 “yes” against 18 “no.” The House then voted 245 – 14 while the Senate voted 16 – 4.
Out of the 27 who voted “no,” four are Mindanawons: Dinagat Islands Rep. Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao, and party list representatives Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis, Tom Villarin of Akbayan and Carlos Isagani Zarate of Bayan Muna. In July, three Mindanawons voted “no” to the extension: Casilao, Villarin and Zarate. Bag-ao was absent then.
The Senate has three Mindanawons: Senate President Aqulino Pimentel III of Cagayan de Oro, and Senators Emmanuel Pacquiao of Sarangani and Juan Miguel Zubiri of Bukidnon.
Several Mindanawon representatives took turns expressing support for extension.
Kusug-Tausug Representative Shernee Abubakar Tan reiterated her July statement proposing a nationwide coverage of martial law.
“If martial law is good for Mindanao, is it also good for Luzon and Visayas?” she asked Lorenzana.
Lorenzana said 45% of the NPA in the Philippines are in Mindanao, and are “creating havoc especially in Eastern Mindanao” while in Visayas and Luzon,
“manageable po ang activities ng NPA.”
Lanao del Norte Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo said martial law may connote “dark days” for those outside Mindanao but “when we hear martial nalipay kami (we are happy), we feel safe, we feel secure.”
Lanao del Sur representatives Ansaruddin Adiong and Mauyag Papandayan, Jr., both registered their support for the extension while Maguindanao Rep. Zajid Mangudadatu said the crime rate in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Midnanao dropped since martial law was declared.
Tawi-Tawi Rep. Ruby Sahali posted on her Facebook page photographs of her and other Mindanao representatives with their thumbs up to signify their “yes” vote.
Anak Mindanao pary list Rep. Macmod Mending said the general sentiment in Mindanao is “in support” to the extension. But he pushed for Congress’ oversight.
He recalled that in July, Lorenzana committed to send Congress a weekly report on the implementation of martial law. He asked Lorenzana if they did.
“I apologize for that mistake that we made. The AFP has been reporting to us weekly and even monthly reports but for some reason nothing has been submitted to Congress. We will rectify that,” Lorenzana vowed.
In explaining his vote, Zarate said President Duterte is repeating what the dictator Ferdinand Marcos did. He reminded the public that martial law became the “number one recruiter” of members into the New People’s Army and the Moro revolutionaries. (see explanation of vote)
He said peace talks with the ND, not martial law, should continue. “Demokrasya, hindi dikdatura!” (Democracy, not dictatorship), Zarate said.
Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin said “without actual invasion or rebellion,” extending martial law would give a “blanket authority to the President to impose it anywhere, anytime,” adding this will lead to a No-el (no election) scenario because the Commission on Elections “will invoke Martial Law as a basis for postponement.” (see explanation of vote)
It could also lead to the postponement of the May 2019 mid-term elections with the looming certainty of a charter change through constituent assembly.
“Martial law now desensitizes the people to wrongly equate martial law with good governance and democracy. Martial Law now makes war as an instrument of national policy rather than the pursuit of peace, justice, equality, freedom through a negotiated peace settlement with those who rebel against government,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)