DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 19 Nov) — Lifting martial law in Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities will depend on what the military and police will recommend, President Rodrigo Duterte said in response to a query if he was ready to lift martial law soon given that the Marawi siege, which triggered its declaration, is over.
“You know, declaration of martial law is always dependent to what the Armed Forces and the police recommend. They are the two entities that would be relied upon heavily by a President or Head of State when he entertains something like extreme measures — martial law, state of emergency,” Duterte told reporters after the launching at the Abreeza Mall here of Tienda Farmers and Fisherfolk Outlets, a partnership of the Department of Agriculture with Ayala Malls.
Duterte declared martial law for 60 days effective 10 p.m. on May 23, some eight hours after the first clashes between government forces and ISIS-inspired Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups and their allies left two soldiers and a policeman dead and 12 others injured.
The President asked Congress for an extension until December 31 this year because of the continuing threats of terrorism. “I have to rehabilitate” and prepare for the expected “retaliation” from the ISIS-inspired Maute Group and its allies, he told reporters a day before Congress deliberated on and granted the extension by a vote of 261-18, with only three Mindanawon Representatives voting “No.”
The President declared Marawi “liberated from the terrorist influence” on October 17. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced the termination of all combat operations in Marawi on October 23, exactly five months after the siege began.
“Kung ano ang sabihin ng Armed Forces pati police since they are the ones also who would be totally engaged in kung mayroon talagang if there’s an offing of trouble there, we should give credence to it actually,” he told reporters on Saturday.
“I do not think that they’d fabricate events. It’s all for us to say it’s evolving everyday, especially in that corridor of Maguindanao and Marawi,” Duterte added.
Last Friday, Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines told the Bangon Marawi press briefing in Malacanang that they are working towards the lifting of martial law. “We’re hoping to be able to address and normalize everything by the end of the year because that was the deadline given to us,” he said.
“Be that as it may, the network of the local terrorist groups still continues and this is the subject of our efforts. So if we are able to address that by the whole of month — the remaining days of November as well as the whole month of December, then we will report that to you and give justification for the lifting of martial law. If not, we will have to request an extension to be able to address the remaining threats in area,” Padilla said.
In the same press briefing, Padilla announced that “the last firefight” between government forces and stragglers in Marawi was on November 5 “when we reported nine Maute members killed in the last stronghold that they had in the main battle area.”
Since then, he said, “we no longer sensed or monitored any sign of life in the last main battle areas.”
But clearing operations for unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices will continue “until we are fully convinced that all the IEDs, all the traps, all the unexploded ordnance that may remain in the area have been found and addressed.”
Padilla also said that in Maguindanao, the target of “focused military operations” during the early morning air strikes on the boundary of Shariff Aguak and Datu Unsay towns on November 14 were the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) factions under Abu Torayfie and Ismael Abubakar alias Bungos.
“As of now, we are still continuing these focused military operations as our proactive measure to address whatever threats these groups pose on the areas of Maguindanao and Cotabato,” he said.
In the Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-tawi area, Padila said the recent abduction of six residents in Sulu, two of them minors, indicate the Abu Sayyaf Group is in dire need and are now “targeting so many local individuals that have not been in their list previously.”
“We assume that these are perhaps part of their ploy to perhaps take out some of our focused military operations in certain parts of Sulu and divert our attention,” he said, adding they will continue to “degrade and address the threat that is still posed by the remaining groups of the ASG in that island.”
He said the 6th Infantry Division under Maj. Gen. Arnel dela Vega and the Joint Task Force Sulu under Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana under the direction of Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez “are all proactively engaging all of the respective assigned targets in order for us to comply with our continuing objective of continuously addressing and providing for a more secure environment for the island of Mindanao.”
Padilla said that in other parts of Mindanao, the implementation of martial law “continues with the maintenance of checkpoints in key areas to address any possible movements of private armed groups, armed elements, lawless individuals, and other threats to the security and peace that we have.”
NPA as ‘terrorists’
Duterte in the same press briefing on Saturday said he will have the New People’s Army classified as “terrorist” as America did.
The Abu Sayyaf Group and the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army are both on the US Department of State’s list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” the Abu Sayyaf listed on October 8, 1997 and the CPP-NPA on August 9, 2002.
He said he recognized the communists as “legitimate rebels” before but “with their continued depredations and killing innocent people and even an infant, four months old” recently, he will issue a proclamation classifying them as “terrorists.”
“So beginning from now, wala nang rebellion-rebellion because rebellion is just a light offense. It can be be bailable except for the leader. We will file terrorist, murder lahat. Arson with murder. Lahat na. Because I would consider them criminals already. Now, it’s a great conspiracy between itong mga BAYAN pati — they are in conspiracy with the rebellion going on,” he said.
The President added they will “study and maybe we will have a crackdown here somewhere. Nagsasawa na ako dito sa kalokohan nila” (I am tired of their foolishness).
Mindanao hosts the most number of communist rebels in the country, particularly in the areas of Caraga and the Davao regions. The NPA has also a strong presence in Bukidnon and North Cotabato and the hinterlands of Davao City.
Duterte repeated his earlier call to the NPA to surrender and he will give them a house and employment in government.
He reiterated there would be no return to the peace negotiating table. “Wala nang istorya (No more talks). We will consider them terrorists, ordinary brigands and no more about principles there. You are not fighting for any principle. My God. Killing a four-year-old infant?”
In a statement on November 15, NPA spokesperson Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos said the rebel group “takes full responsibility and expresses remorse for the unfortunate and unnecessary death of an infant and injury to two adult civilians arising from the ambush by an NPA unit in Barangay Tikalaan, Talakag, Bukidnon last November 11.”
Duterte said what happened in Talakag was “an intentional act” and not an accident.
“You know, when you fire at government vehicles or anyone for that matter, any, somebody else’s vehicle, there’s always a danger. It’s a malicious act. There is the intent to kill that’s why it’s an ambush,” he said. (MindaNews)