Congress seen to back martial law extension Featured

Congress seen to back martial law extension

By Paolo Romero and Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star)

Members of the two chambers of Congress are expected to support an extension of martial law in Mindanao in case Malacañang asks for it. AP/Bullit Marquez, File

MANILA, Philippines - Members of the two chambers of Congress are expected to support an extension of martial law in Mindanao in case Malacañang asks for it.

Senators and congressmen said they would ask for security briefings on the situation in Marawi, but would likely support the Duterte administration in its decision.

Malacañang also does not see any hindrance should President Duterte decide to extend martial law in Mindanao beyond the 60-day period after the Supreme Court (SC) ruled there was factual basis for the proclamation.

Senators expect that a request from the President to extend the imposition of martial law in Mindanao will easily hurdle Congress, which is dominated by his allies.

Based on the constitutional limit of 60 days, martial law will lapse on July 23, a day before Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar yesterday expressed belief there would be no difficulties in the event that the President sees the need for an extension of martial law.

“It depends on when the conflict in Marawi will end. I think it will see its end. But if it is not yet finished. The declaration of martial law was supported by Congress and the judiciary,” Andanar told radio station dzBB.

“All co-equal branches of government were one in saying that the martial law in Mindanao was justified. I think if there is a need to extend it, there will be no problems,” he added.

On Saturday, Duterte hinted that he might seek an extension of martial law as government forces continue to battle Maute militants in Marawi.

Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23 after the Islamic State-aligned Maute terrorists launched attacks in Marawi City, burning several structures and holding hostage more than a dozen people.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the President can declare martial law if warranted for 60 days and inform Congress within 48 hours the justifications for it.

Any extension of the declaration should be done with the consent of the Senate and the House convening jointly.

Officials could not give a categorical answer when asked whether the President would ask Congress to extend martial law, saying it would depend on the assessment of the military.

Andanar claimed that martial law in Mindanao, which has sparked fears of human rights violations, has the support of a majority of Filipinos.

“Almost all Filipinos support the declaration of martial law because people want peace in the land,” he said.

“It showed that the President does not hesitate to act if it is for the benefit of our countrymen,” Andanar added.

ML extension backed

Duterte’s allies in Congress have approved resolutions expressing support for martial law and rejecting calls from the opposition to hold a joint session to review the basis of the proclamation.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III earlier sought another closed-door briefing from security officials on the situation in Marawi City before Duterte’s Proclamation 216 expires.

“We want to be briefed so that we’ll have a better grasp and understanding of the situation on the ground in Marawi,” Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said.

“But since there have been no atrocities or any human rights violations committed since the imposition of martial law, it will be easier to justify an extension if needed,” he said.

Sotto said “if the situation so warrants” the two chambers would agree to extend martial law.

Sen. Francis Escudero said as much: “If they show that the problem is still subsisting, and martial law is still needed to address it.”

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the Senate committee on public order and safety, said while the lawmakers’ decision would largely depend on how the security officials will present their case to Congress, Duterte has “an overwhelming number of allies” in both Houses.

Pimentel earlier said the 23-member Senate and the House with 296 members would vote once they convene in joint session to deliberate on the extension.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security, said any “rational informed policy decision (of Congress) must be based on complete, accurate and timely information.”

Sotto, Ejercito and Sen. Richard Gordon said last week they were inclined to support an extension, especially after the high court upheld the proclamation.

Sotto and Ejercito, however, said it might be better if the scope of the extension was limited, for example, to Lanao del Sur where Marawi City is located.

Pimentel and Gordon earlier said it would be better if Duterte informs Congress of his intention to extend martial law.

Gordon said based on the Constitution, martial law in Mindanao “dies a natural death” on the 60th day and Duterte should initiate an extension before July 22.

This, he said, is to avoid any “legal fracas” as the Constitution “abhors a vacuum.”

Gordon suggested that Duterte make a formal justification of his extension when he delivers his SONA before the joint session of Congress at the opening of the second regular legislative session on July 24.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier suggested that Duterte inform Congress of his intention to extend martial law.

Since Congress will be in joint session on July 24, Drilon suggested that instead of adjourning after the SONA, lawmakers continue the session to deliberate on the request for possible extension.

Drilon said even if there could a gap of a day or a few days from the expiry to the time Congress makes its decision, another martial law proclamation is still considered an extension.

“To me, to avoid any constitutional issues—this is a case of first impression, as it has never happened before. I think the President will lose nothing if before July 22 he sends a notice to Congress that he wants to extend martial law for whatever reason,” he said.

Escudero earlier said the possible gap is not an issue as government troops will still be in Marawi City rooting out the Maute terrorists.

“I have always been against setting deadlines that may endanger the lives of our soldiers just for the sake of meeting the deadline set,” Escudero said.

Allies of the President in the House of Representatives also expressed support for an extension of martial law.

“The Marawi conflict left more than 400 people dead and damaged buildings and infrastructure. So I support the extension of martial law,” Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, chairman of the House committee on good government and public accountability, said.

House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez of Quezon province echoed Pimentel’s statement.

“I think the situation in Marawi is far from being normal. An extension of the martial rule may be in order,” Suarez said.

Suarez said it is Congress that has the power to extend martial law.

“It is the call of the House and the Senate if the President will ask for it. I think it’s more of a military decision and the President will be guided accordingly by the decision of the military,” he said.

Representatives Winston Castelo (Quezon City), LRay Villafuerte (Camarines Sur), Robert Ace Barbers (Surigao del Norte), Jericho Jonas Nograles (PBA party-list), Sherwin Tugna (Cibac party-list) and Roger Mercado (southern Leyte) lauded the decision of the Supreme Court (SC) upholding Duterte’s declaration of martial law.

“The ruling is not without any justifiable reason. We are glad to know that all three branches of government are united in solving this biggest threat to the country’s security,” Castelo, who heads the House committee on Metro Manila development, said.

“I hope that detractors would stop bellyaching and refocus their attention on more productive endeavors such as helping Malacañang on the relief and rehabilitation efforts in Marawi City,” Villafuerte, vice chairman of the House committee on defense, said.

Barbers said the President’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao proved to be a wise move as it prevented possible reinforcements for the terrorist Maute group in Marawi.

“This is a victory for every peace-loving Filipino who condemned the senseless loss of lives in the rebellion,” Barbers said.

With a vote of 11-3-1, the high court affirmed the President’s Proclamation No. 216, junking petitions that questioned his basis for declaring martial rule in the south.

“ I hope those who dissent will support the efforts for peace and rehabilitation in Mindanao,” Nograles said.

Tugna said the SC decision would allow government forces to exhaust all necessary means to pursue the members of the Maute group and prevent terrorist attacks from spreading to other parts of the country.

“Our Muslim brothers must do their part in rebuilding Mindanao so they could see the funds and infrastructure projects of the national government,” Mercado said.

Last week, the high court upheld Duterte’s martial law declaration in Mindanao, junking petitions questioning its basis.

Eleven justices voted in favor of the Proclamation 216 while three voted to limit it to Marawi City. Only Associate Justice Marvic Leonen voted against the declaration.

Duterte earlier said he may not lift martial rule in Mindanao before his second SONA on July 24.

“No. It’s the Armed Forces and the police who will decide. I consulted them and said it was critical,” the President told reporters in Davao City on Friday.

“I do not have an independent study of what, how things are on the ground. It’s not my job. And I cannot do it physically even. So, I have just to rely on the word of the Armed Forces and the police because they are the ones keeping this Republic healthy and alive,” the President added.

Andanar said the government is praying that the Marawi crisis would end soon, noting that the rehabilitation can only start once the security threats are addressed.

– With Delon Porcalla

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