Manila: The presidential palace emphasised that the safety of Filipinos is the main concern when Congress on Wednesday approved the extension of President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law declaration.
“Public safety is our primordial concern,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said. Hours before this, the House of Representatives and Senate, in a joint session, voted overwhelmingly to approve an “extension” to Duterte’s May 23, 2017 declaration placing the entire island of Mindanao. The order, according to the President, was necessary to quell Islamist militant rebellion in Marawi City.
“We welcome the approval of both houses of Congress to extend the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao beginning January 1, 2018 until December 31, 2018,” Roque said.
The writ of habeas corpus is a safeguard against unlawful or arbitrary detention. Lifting or suspending it, as what Duterte did, means the state can arrest suspects for an indefinite period without having to file a case against the subjects.
“We ask the public to stand behind the administration and rally behind our defenders to quell the continuing rebellion in Mindanao; eradicate the DAESH-inspired Da’awatul Islamiyah Waliyatul Masriq (DIWM) and other like-minded local/ foreign terrorist groups and armed lawless groups, and the communist terrorists and their coddlers, supporters and financiers; and ensure the unhampered rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi and the lives of its residents.
Under Philippine law, martial law can be declared unilaterally by the President when the situation calls for it, such as rebellion, calamities and similar emergency situations, however, 60 days after the declaration, he or she needs to seek the concurrence of Congress. The case of the current declaration, the Senate and House had already extended the first declaration. What was approved this Wednesday, was a second extension which lasts from January 2018 to December 2018.
In approving the extension of the martial law to a full year, Congress recognised the threats mentioned by Duterte in seeking the extension which are: The remnants of the Daesh-backed militants formerly led by the late Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute continue to rebuild their organisation, the presence of the Turaifie Group and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and remnants of the Abu Sayyaf. Lastly, the President mentioned the threat posed by communist insurgent group, the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) and its continuing abuses.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said that in having sought the extension of martial law, the Duterte administration affirmed its commitment to bring peace and put an end to the conflicts in Southern Philippines which had been going on for decades.
“We do not ask for an unlimited martial law. What we are seeking is unlimited peace,” he said.
For her part, Senator Riza Hontiveros said extending martial law could be counter-productive.
“Mr President, martial law will not address the NPA’s abuses. Quite the opposite, martial law will only revive a spent force,” she said.
“Martial law is not the solution. It is not a silver bullet or a quick-fix for all of our social ills. It will not bring us nearer to peace,” she said while justifying a decision she made earlier in the day to vote against the extension of the directive.