President Rodrigo Duterte will send Congress a letter next week to formally ask for an extension of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao for the third time, a top Malacañang official said.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea replied “Yes” via a text message to Palace reporters when asked if Mr. Duterte finally relayed his request to both chambers.
As for the coverage of the new extension, Medialdea answered, “One year and Mindanao.”
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Mr. Duterte has communicated his request “to the leadership of both Houses of Congress.”
On Mr. Duterte’s justification, Panelo said rebellion persists in Mindanao.
“The Palace confirms that the President has requested Congress to approve the further extension of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao for another year starting next month,” Panelo said in a statement.
“We have achieved substantial progress in addressing the rebellion in Mindanao, as well as promoting the overall security and peace and order situation therein which even led to noteworthy economic developments in the locality,” he added.
“A halt may only frustrate the progress we are witnessing in Mindanao and may even strengthen the rebellion and propel it to other parts of the country,” he added.
“While it is now up to Congress to decide on whether this initiative by the President is justified or not, we are positive that it will share our views as ours are purely intended for the general welfare of our brothers and sisters in Mindanao,” the spokesman said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Department of National Defense all recommended prolonging martial law down South.
It was first declared in May 2017 after the Islamic State (IS)-inspired Maute Group held Marawi City captive that resulted in a fierce firefight between terrorists and government troops.
The House of Representatives and the Senate have twice extended military rule in Mindanao after the initial proclamation, first from 23 July to 31 December 2017 and on 13 December 2017 which is set to expire by the end of this month.
The President’s letter requesting Congress another full year extension of martial law will be transmitted to the Senate on Monday, 10 December, the same day the AFP will brief senators.
Joint session slated
Sotto said the President intends to call for a joint session of Congress to tackle the issue by next week.
“We will have a briefing from the AFP Monday morning,” Sotto said in a message to Senate reporters. “I’m still waiting for the President’s letter re joint session. He sent me a message saying he might call for it on Wednesday, 12 December. But nothing is concrete until I receive his letter.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said AFP chief of staff Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. will be leading the briefing.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Defense, said he will listen to the AFP briefing.
“We will have to listen to them first because they are in possession of the data that will warrant such a recommendation. So, we will just find out if these data have basis,” Honasan said.
Earlier, the senators had demanded a briefing by the AFP and the PNP regarding the recommendation to extend the martial law in Mindanao to another year.
No word yet
The House of Representatives has yet to receive a communication from Malacañang, House Majority Floor Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. said.
“There’s no communication yet. We are also waiting for its arrival, but if they are asking for it, I think we are inclined to grant it,” he said.
The lawmaker added the House is requesting the presence of the military, intelligence officers and affected residents in Mindanao to explain the situation and to be consulted.
“Of course, our perspective is different. We are not there. So, it’s quite difficult to be arguing something which we cannot see on the ground. If we can also have inputs from people on the ground, then it will be better. The grant of the extension will be sooner,” he said.
Andaya and other House leaders will still evaluate before they can propose the recommended duration of martial law in Mindanao.
He said that they will support it even if the May 2019 elections are fast-approaching.
Defense chief confident
They said they will only decide on the matter after hearing the AFP-PNP briefing.
Lorenzana, on the other hand, expressed optimism that majority of the senators would support the AFP-PNP recommendation.
“We are confident that they, at least the majority, will support the extension,” Lorenzana said.
The Defense chief stressed the need for the extension of martial law to another year, citing threats still being posed by terrorist groups.
“There is still continuing rebellion being waged by the remnants of the Maute, ISIS and Abu Sayaff. Also, it is the clamor of the people in Mindanao,” he said.
On Wednesday, PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde cited the gains of the 18-month implementation of martial law in Mindanao.
Albayalde stressed no single case of human rights violation was filed against security forces in connection with martial law, contrary to what is being peddled by critics of the Duterte administration.
Because of this, he said police recorded a drastic improvement in the peace and order situation in Mindanao where the crime volume dropped by 28,853 or 32.8 percent.
The police chief said they also recorded a drop of 44.2 percent in index crime that includes murder, physical injuries, homicide cases while recovering almost 10,000 loose firearms throughout Mindanao.
President Duterte declared martial law on 23 May 2017 after elements of the IS-inspired Maute-Abu Sayyaf Group laid siege on Marawi City which ended on 23 October 2017 with the killing of more than 1,000 terrorists, government troops and civilians.
With Hananeel Bordey, Elmer N. Manuel