DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 18 July) — From a period of 60 days, President Rodrigo Duterte now wants martial law over Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities extended until December 31, 2017 — or a total of 222 days — claiming that upon a “thorough, personal assessment” of the current situation in Marawi City and other parts of Mindanao, he has “come to the conclusion that the rebellion in Mindanao will not be quelled completely” by July 22, the last day of the 60-day period provided under the Constitution.
Duterte also sought extension of the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus until December 31 “or for such a period of time as the Congress may determine” for the reasons he cited and “because public safety requires it.”
At the press briefing in Malacanang on Tuesday morning, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said Duterte’s initiative to extend martial law is contained in a letter to Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr.
Duterte hosted dinner for Congress leaders on July 17, where he called for a special joint session of Congress on Saturday, July 22, to deliberate on his proposed extension.
The President noted that aside from his “thorough personal assessment,” he took into account the reports and recommendations of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, martial law administrator; General Eduardo Ano, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), martial law implementor; and Philippine National Police (PNP) Director-General Ronald dela Rosa.
Duterte, then in Moscow, issued Proclamation 216 effective 10 p.m. on May 23, 2017, declaring martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, hours after clashes erupted between government forces and the Maute Group and its allied terror groups left two Army soldiers and a police officer dead and 12 others injured.
60 days to yearend
That he can seek an extension of martial law is allowed by Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution. The Constitution, however, is silent on the length of the extension.
But it specifies the period when martial law may be declared, “for a period not exceeding 60 days.”
The Constitution also provides that “upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.”
Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto was quoted by various media entities in Manila as saying that the President during the dinner in Malacanang proposed a 60-day extension.
But Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, told reporters in Manila that the President did not categorically say 60 days. Pimentel said he asked the President if his preferred period of extension was 60 days and that he thought he saw the President nod.
But Pimentel is confident that both Houses of Congress will approve the extension. “Confident ako na the request for extension of Martial Law will be approved. That if it will still be over entire Mindanao, that will be approved,” but as to the period of extension, ” let us wait for the (President’s) letter.”
“Basahin po natin yung (Let us read the) letter request. Hopefully it will have some details justifying the period being requested,” said Pimentel.
Lawyer Antonio La Viña of Cagayan de Oro City, former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government and a Constitutional Law professor, said he does not understand why the extension is up to December and why it is for all of Mindanao again.
“There is no provision in the Constitution limiting the period of extension so I think 60 days should be the guidance. I hope I am wrong but my sense is that this is a dress rehearsal for what may be nationwide martial law and for an indefinite period,” La Viña told MindaNews.
“Unhampered by deadlines”
“The primary objective of a possible extension is to allow our forces to continue with their operations unhampered by deadlines and to focus more on the liberation of Marawi, its rehabilitation and rebuilding,” Abella said at the Malacanang press briefing.
Abella said the military and the police made a recommendation on the period of extension but the President “made his own proposal” to Congress.
“The President has his own sources of information that prompted him to come to this conclusion and I am sure it is related, all of these things, whatever information he has, is all related towards ensuring public safety due to certain forces that maybe at play within the region,” he said.
He said the summary report the President received from the Department of National Defense contains a “chronological presentation and insights… it leads to a conclusion that there really is a need to extend martial law in the whole of Mindanao.”
As of 7 p.m. on July 17, a total of 98 government forces and 45 civilians have been killed in Marawi City since May 23, Abella said, citing military reports . The same reports claim 413 enemy forces have been killed.
Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rossell Ubial told a Malacanang press briefing on July 17 that 40 evacuees from Marawi have died from illnesses, most of them in hospitals.
Col. Edgardo Arevalo, chief of the AFP’s Public Affairs Office, said a total of 852 soldiers have been wounded in action in Marawi as of 7 p.m. on July 16.
Ronal Go, president of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry said he will defer commenting on Duterte’s proposal until after Friday as the President is expected to be in the city on that day to attend an event.
Go had earlier said that while they support martial law “we cannot deny the slowdown especially in the tourism industry.”
Mindanao Business Council chair Vicente Lao, said martial law “has very little effect to business and investment in Mindanao.”
“If the military requested for the extension of martial law in Mindanao, then we will support the President’s request also to extend martial law in the island,” he said.
In a statement, Bayan called on Congress “not to be a party to this dangerous ploy” to extend martial law.
“We call on the people to resist such moves to impose a military dictatorship on the country. We say, never again,” Bayan said.
Bayan said the last 60 days of martial law in Mindanao have seen a “spike in human rights violations of civilian communities affected by increased and intensified military and police operations.”
Aside from areas in and around Marawi, Lumad communities “resisting large-scale mining have been particularly affected by intensified military operations,” and the military “has even started interfering in labor and land disputes in the guise of martial law,” Bayan added.
“Neither the situation in Marawi nor the entire Mindanao calls for such a drastic and draconian measure. On the contrary, we have been repeatedly told that the fighting in Marawi is coming to a close and that the Maute group is trapped and dwindling in number,” the statement added.
On Monday, July 17, Lt. Col Jo-Ar Herrera, Joint Task Force Marawi spokesperson, said government forces are fighting only about 50 to 60 members of the Maute Grou and its allies in Marawi. (Carolyn O. Arguillas and Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)