From 60 to 588 days: AFP, PNP want martial law in Mindanao extended until end of 2018 but what is the basis?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 09 December) — From two months to seven to 19.

From an initial 60 days starting May 23, Day 1 of the Marawi Crisis and extended to 223 days until December 31, 2017, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) now want martial law in all of Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities extended by one year or a total of 588 days until December 31, 2018.

Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) told Malacanang reporters Friday that the military’s recommendation has been submitted to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana who “forwarded the recommendation to Malacanang.”

“I don’t have the details of as to the length but … as far as I’m concerned, there is a recommendation to similarly support the recommendation of the Philippine National Police,” Padilla said.

The Philippine Star’s December 8 issue bannered the proposed year-long extension of martial law, quoting Local Governments OIC Catalino Cuy as saying continuing threats from terrorist groups prompted the PNP to recommend to the President a year-long extension. The PNP is under the Department of Interior and Local Government.

Evacuees from Marawi City and their supporters call for an end to martial law in Mindanao, in Iligan City on Thursday (July 27, 2017). MindaNews photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

MindaNews asked Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a text message Friday why the extension for one year and why all of Mindanao? His reply: “why not?”

But when asked what is the factual basis for extension given that the rebellion in Marawi — the reason why martial law was declared in the first place — had been addressed and Marawi had been declared by President Duterte on October 17 as having been “liberated from the terrorist influence,” Lorenzana sent no reply. MindaNews also asked in the same message if including the New People’s Army (NPA) which has been tagged “terrorist” by President Rodrigo Duterte as among the threats would not require a new Proclamation, considering that the basis for the May 23 martial law declaration was Marawi.

“In my view, it should be treated as a new proclamation,” Tony La Vina, a

Mindanawon lawyer, professor of constitutional law in several universities in Manila and Mindanao, and former dean of the Ateneo School of Government, told MindaNews.

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado of the Mindanao People’s Caucus cited the constitutional provision on extending martial law “if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.”

“The operative word is here is PERSIST. Does the Maute rebellion in Marawi still persist which will then necessitate extension?” Arnado asked.

“If Marawi has been liberated and the Mautes were all killed, where is the rebellion coming from that requires extension of martial law all over Mindanao?” Arnado asked.

“Not exceeding 60 days”

Duterte issued Proclamation 216 on May 23, placing Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities under martial law. He also suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

The declaration, issued from Moscow where the President was on state visit, was for “a period not exceeding 60 days” effective 10 p.m. or some eight hours after the Marawi Crisis started. By then three government forces had been killed and 12 others injured.

In July, just before the end of the 60-day period, Duterte sought and was granted by Congress an extension of martial law until the end of the year.

Proclamation 216 specifically cited the Maute Group’s takeover of parts of Marawi City on May 23 and its flying the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

On July 21, a day before Congress voted 261 – 18 to extend martial law until yearend 2017, Duterte told Davao City reporters: “if there is no more ISIS doing his thing, there is no more rebellion, what am I supposed to do with martial law? I get my salary with or without a martial law. I can operate with or without martial law.”

“Degraded” and “Leaderless”

Padilla at the Malacanang press briefing said Mindanao is still facing threats from the Dawla Islamiyah comprising the Maute Group, Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and “other terrorist organizations.”

Padilla said they also  “face significant violent activities” from the groups of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters “in Maguindanao, Lanao and Cotabato” and threats from the “continued existence of ASG forces in the islands of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.”

But Padilla also admitted that while the ISIS-inspired groups that operated in Marawi are still a threat, “they have significantly been degraded in terms of capability and manpower, those who survived that siege still remain at large and are attempting to recover by recruiting other members of the society, particularly the vulnerable sector of our population, and they are students, children, women and the like, as well as relatives of those who lost their lives in the fight.”

The Maute brothers and Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon were killed in Marawi.

Padilla said there is “no clear evidence that they have a new leader” and described the group that laid siege on Marawi as “scattered all around, disorganized, and no leader — leaderless.”

He said they are “closely watching and monitoring and we have determined that there are attempts to once again build up their forces through recruitment.”

“We still need to continue and we still need the cover of martial law to address that bigger threat that they pose in other areas,” he said.

NPA  and martial law

Padilla then cited the “increasing violence” initiated by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) which Duterte had tagged as “terrorists” following his announcement to end the peace talks.

“Increasing violence initiated by the left is something to watch out for and something that we have to prepare for and confront. That’s part of the reason why martial law may be needed to cover other areas where potential terrorists are in hiding,” Padilla said.

He cited statistics: 65% increase of violent incidents by the NPA from January to November 30 this year in Eastern and Western Mindanao — 617 incidents, 382 of them committed in the Eastern Mindanao Command area and 18 in the Western Mindanao Command area.

No extension

Drieza Lininding, chair of the Moro Consensus Group, said what happened on May 23 in Marawi was “purely an act of terrorism and not rebellion or invasion” and should not have warranted the declaration of martial law “for this is not the first time for this group to occupy towns and then were later pushed out by the armed forces (Butig, Piagapo).”

Liniding said the powers of the President to call out the Armed Forces were enough to respond to the threat.

He noted that while Proclamation 216 covered all of Mindanao, it “singled out Meranaws” in that reports of detention and illegal arrest of Meranaw-speaking people followed right after the declaration.

He blamed the “hasty declaration of martial law” for instilling fear among residents of Marawi that “made them decide to flee (Marawi) instead of defending or protecting their homes and properties.”

He said martial law should have been lifted immediately after the President declared Marawi “liberated.”

“Unli-Martial Law”

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the AFP and PNP apparently want  an “unli-Martial law that they can extend whenever they want, even if the affected people, especially the displaced residents of Marawi and other provinces, are totally opposed to it.”

Zarate, one of 18 representatives and one of three from Mindanao who voted no to its extension in July, reiterated “there is no basis for extending martial rule in Mindanao” and that it has “only caused hardships and sufferings to our people” as it means “a spike in human rights violations in the island.

Congress has only three session days left  — December 11, 12 and 13 — and will go on a holiday break by December 16. Extension of martial law will require a joint session of the House and the Senate.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)