Photo: The joint special session at the House of Representatives, Quezon City, for the extention of Martial Law in Mindanao. INQUIRER PHOTO / NINO JESUS ORBETA
In an unprecedented move, the Senate and the House of Representatives met jointly on Saturday and voted 261-18 to extend martial law in Mindanao until Dec. 31.
Despite spirited objections from minority lawmakers, the two chambers passed a resolution extending for five months President Rodrigo Duterte’s Proclamation No. 216, which imposed a 60-day martial rule in Mindanao on May 23 in the wake of terrorist attacks by the Islamic State (IS)-inspired Maute group.
According to the Constitution, 60 days is the maximum period allowed for the declaration of martial rule. Any extension must be approved by Congress.
Malacañang welcomed the positive vote and said Congress’ extension of martial law was “essential to the (country’s) overall peace and stability.”
The nation, said presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella, “has chosen to stand united in defending the Republic.”
The work to improve Mindanao begins, he said. “There is much work to be done in the recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi. Together, let us transform Mindanao into a land of fulfillment,” Abella said.
Before their votes were consolidated, the Senate voted 16-4, while the House members voted 245-14 to extend martial law in the south.
The four senators who voted “no” to the extension were Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senators Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan and Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino, who all belong to the minority bloc.
Ahead of the voting, security officials told lawmakers that martial law was needed to stabilize a region where IS was gaining influence, and supporters could be inspired to stage uprisings in Mindanao with foreign jihadists.
During the interpellation, Drilon questioned the factual basis for President Duterte’s request to extend martial law, pointing out that only 10 out of 27 provinces in Mindanao were threatened by the terrorist Maute group.
But Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the provinces in the region are contiguous, which makes it easier for terrorist groups to move from one place to another.
Hontiveros said she voted against the extension of martial law because “I have not seen any evidence that [it] offers any distinct strategic advantage to our soldiers in their fight against the Maute terrorists that other laws cannot offer.
“And because I cannot trust a government that has played God with the lives of 8,000 to 12,000 Filipinos to wield martial law judiciously, I voted no,” she added.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said that extending martial rule in Mindanao would give soldiers and policemen “additional tools” to achieve their military goal by restricting the movements of terrorists, imposing curfews and arresting militants.
“In the immediate term, if by December we see that Mindanao or Marawi (had become) stable, we will move for the lifting of martial law,” he added.
A slide presentation by the Armed Forces compared the crisis in Marawi City to the takeover of the Iraqi city of Mosul. Marawi itself could now become a magnet for foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, the presentation said.
The military said only about 60 Maute gunmen were left in a 49-hectare area of Marawi, but Mr. Duterte said he needed martial law powers to rebuild the city and ensure that war does not spread elsewhere.
“I cannot afford to be complacent,” the President told reporters on Friday, adding the military would be conducting further “mopping up operations” even after they recapture Marawi.
Martial law, which allows the military to establish control with measures such as curfews, checkpoints and gun controls, has remained a sensitive issue some 30 years after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos put the country under military rule as part of his 20-year term.
Thousands of critics, political opponents as well as communist guerrillas were killed, detained or arrested during the period, according to historians.
About a dozen protesters in the gallery interrupted on Saturday’s hearing, chanting “never again, never again to martial law” before being escorted out. The Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office has recommended the filing of disturbance of proceedings charges against the eight activists.
The arrested activists included three volunteer teachers of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), an alternative learning system for lumad and indigenous youth in Mindanao.
Mr. Duterte had already beaten back a Supreme Court petition to declare martial law in Mindanao illegal. But opposition politicians have criticized his proposal for an extension, with some alleging that it was part of a plot to eventually bring the country under a military-backed dictatorship.
After this, he could declare a revolutionary government to allow him to stay in office beyond his six-year electoral term in mid-2022, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman asked during interpellation if the “horrific aftermath” of the fighting in Marawi City could have been avoided had martial law never been declared in the first place.
The Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Eduardo Año, said martial law wasn’t the cause of the city’s destruction. “The crisis introduced a new type of urban warfare, notable of which is the total disregard (for) civilian lives, similar to (IS) in the Middle East, [including the] looting and pillaging in occupied areas in Marawi,” he said.
Also on Saturday, some 100 Marawi City evacuees gathered in Iligan City to voice their opposition to the extension of martial rule.
“We want to go home and we cannot do that if the situation drags on,” said Nadji Salahudin, a Grade 8 pupil of Mindanao State University-Lanao National College of Arts and Trade. Extending martial rule means their continued stay in evacuation centers, she added.
“We cannot understand why you did it to us. Please leave us alone. We are not terrorists and we want to live in peace,” Salahudin said.
Abato Saide, a resident of West Marinaut, said the nonextension of martial law would put to a halt the bombing of the city. —With reports from Inquirer Mindanao and the wires