DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 11 Dec) — The Senate and House of Representatives will hold a joint session Wednesday (December 13) to act on the request of President Rodrigo Duterte to extend martial law in Mindanao and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus until December 31, 2018.
“Wednesday, starting 9 a.m.,” Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III told MindaNews. Wednesday is the last session day before Congress goes on holiday break on December 16.
In a five-page letter to Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr., dated December 8 but released only on December 11, Duterte noted the recommendations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to extend the period of martial law “January 1, 2018 until December 31, 2018.”
Extending martial law, he said, would help the AFP, the PNP and all other law enforcement agencies “quell completely and put an end to the ongoing rebellion in Mindanao and prevent the same from escalating to other parts of the country.”
Duterte said public safety “indubitably requires such further extension” not only for security and public order but “more importantly to enable the government and the people of Mindanao to pursue the bigger talks of rehabilitation and the promotion of a stable socio-economic growth and development.”
This is the second request for extension since Duterte issued Proclamation 216 on May 23, Day 1 of the Marawi Crisis, placing all of Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities under martial law for 60 days.
In July, Duterte sought an extension until yearend 2017. Congress granted the request by a vote of 261 – 18, with only three Mindanawon representatives voting “no.”
The President quoted the December 4 letter of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzan, concurrent Martial Law Administrator, recommending the year-long extension “primarily to ensure total eradication of DAESH-inspired Da’awaul Isamiyah Waliyatul Masriq (DIWM), other like-minded Local/Foreign Terrorist Groups (L/FTGs) and Armed Lawless Groups (ALGs) and the communist terrorists (CTs) and their coddlers, supporters, and financiers.”
Proclamation 216 invoked invoked rebellion in Marawi as the reason for declaring martial law, citing 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)
Liberated, Degraded, Leaderless
Duterte declared Marawi City “liberated from the terrorist influence” on October 17, a day after the leaders of the siege — Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the alleged Emir of East Asia, and Omar Maute, were killed.
Lorenzana announced the termination of all combat operations in Marawi on October 23, exactly five months after the siege began and five months after martial law was declared.
Duterte listed five reasons behind his request for extension, citing threats from the groups that operated in Marawi, other threat groups in Maguindanao and the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi, and devoted five paragraphs on threats from the New People’s Army (NPA).
First reason, he said, is the “continued recruitment and training of new members” even as Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and the Maute brothers had been killed in military operations.
He said “remnants of DAESH-inspired DIWM members,” referring to the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups and allies who laid siege on Marawi, their protectors, supporters and sympathizers, “have been monitored in their continued efforts towards radicalization/recruitment, financial and logistical build up, as well as in their consolidation/reorganization in Central Mindanao, particularly in the province of Maguindanao and North Cotabato and also in Sulu and Basilan.”
Duterte said these activities “are geared towards the conduct of intensified atrocities and armed public uprisings in support of their objective of establishing the foundation of a global Islamic caliphate and of a Wilayat not only in the Philippines but also in the whole of Southeast Asia.”
But Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson of the AFP told a press briefing in Malacanang last Friday 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,” that 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.”
Padilla said the groups that operated in Marawi are “scattered,” “disorganized,” and “leaderless.”
Duterte’s letter cited as second and third reason the groups belonging to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) — the Turaifie Group which it did not label but is one of three factions of the BIFF, has been “monitored to be planning to conduct bombings, notably targeting the Cotabato area, as second reason and third, that the BIFF “continue (sic) to defy the government.
The BIFF allegedly perpetrated at least 15 violent incidents in Maguindanao and North Cotabato during martial law and that this year, the BIFF “initiated at least 89 violent incidents, mostly harassments and roadside bombings” against government troops.
Turaifie is “said to be Hapilon’s potential successor as Amir of DAESH Wilayat in the Philippines and Southeast Asia,” Duterte said.
Padilla last Friday said there is “no clear evidence” that the groups that operated in Marawi have a new leader. They are now “scattered all around, disorganized, and no leader — leaderless,” he said.
Duterte cited as fourth reason the “remnants” of the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Zamboanga Peninsula who “remain as a serious security concern,” citing reports that they conducted at least 43 acts of terrorism, including attacks using improvised explosive devices, harassments, and kidnappings “which have resulted in the killing of eight civilians, three of whom were mercilessly beheaded.”
The fifth reason, described in Duterte’s letter as “last, but certainly not the least,” is the NPA, the group that merited five paragraphs in the five-page letter.
Duterte said that while government forces were preoccupied with Marawi, the NPA “intensified their decades-long rebellion against the government and stepped up terrorist acts against innocent civilians and private entities, as well as guerilla warfare against the security sector and public and government infrastructure, purposely to seize political power through violent means and supplant the country’s democratic form of government with Communist rule.”
Duterte cited statistics — “at least 385 atrocities” allegedly perpetrated by the NPA– “both terrorism and guerilla warfare” that left 41 soldiers and 23 civilians killed and 62 soldiers and six civilians injured. He cited the November 9 ambush in Talakag, Bukidnon that left a police personnel and a four-month old infant dead and three other police personnel and two civilians injured.
He also cited at least 59 arson incidents allegedly by the NPA in Mindanao, that targeted the business sector and destroyed an estimated P2.2. billion worth of properties, citing as “most significant” the April 9 attack on Lapanday Food Corporation in Davao City and the May 6 burning of facilities and equipment of Mill-Oro Mining and Frasec Ventures Corporation in Mati City, Davao Oriental.
Duterte issued Proclamation 360 on November 23 terminating the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF) which represents the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA in the negotiations and Proclamation 374 on December 5, declaring the CPP-NPA-NDF as a terrorist organization.
These recent developments “forebode another year of intensified armed hostilities which, together with other security concerns described above, continue to make Mindanao the hotbed of rebellion,” Duterte said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)