By Macon Araneta
FilAm Star Correspondent
Voting 261-18, Congress overwhelmingly approved President Rodrigo Duterte’s request for an extension of martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus until December 31 in Mindanao during July 22’s joint session in the House of Representatives.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez announced that “the results of the voting showed that 262 congressmen voted affirmative and 18 negative.”
“As per the Constitution and the Rules of the Joint Session, the motion to extend martial law and the suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus are approved by Congress,” declared Alvarez after the nominal voting which came following the seven-hour marathon hearing in the House of Representatives.
Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel said 16 senators heeded the President’s appeal while only four rejected his call. They are Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros and Bam Aquino.
On the part of the House, 245 threw their support to the extension while only 14 turned it down.
During the interpellation, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon pressed Executive Sec. Salvador Medialdea for the “factual basis” for the President’s call on Congress to grant an extension of martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
He questioned the proposed extension of martial law in Mindanao until the end of the year, noting that the request has no factual basis.
At the special joint session of Congress, he said that nearly 400 of the 600 members of the ISIS-influenced rebel groups in Mindanao had been neutralized in only two months under martial law.
Drilon cited Duterte’s report attached to his letter requesting Congress to extend martial law as saying, “from May 23 to July 10, or less than two months into the declaration, the armed forces has already neutralized 379 out of 600 members of rebel groups.”
“The question is if we have neutralized 379 Maute or their sympathizers in less than two months, why do we need six more months, considering the time it took to neutralize more than half of the rebels, to defeat the remaining rebels?”
In response, Medialdea said the warfare being engaged by the rebel groups was “urban warfare (and the armed forces do) not (have) an easy task (neutralizing) these rebels,” adding six months was the recommendation of the military.
Drilon strongly objected to the motion of Sen. Gringo Honasan of a 150-day — erroneously counted since July, August, October and December each have 31 days — extension or until December 31 and sought out an amendment to shorten the add-on to only 60 days.
Drilon had earlier argued that illegal drug syndicates and “peace spoilers” were not part of rebel groups. He mentioned the Operational Directive (OD) of the Armed Forces Chief of Staff in recommending to the President an extension of martial law beyond the 60-day period.
He said the military’s OD showed that martial law should be extended to dismantle the New People’s Army, other terrorist groups, illegal drug syndicates and peace spoilers.
On May 23, the President placed Marawi City under martial rule after it was overtaken by members of the Maute terror group.
The former justice secretary said the executive branch had the burden of justifying that rebellion continues to persist to warrant an extention of martial law and a continuation of the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
He insisted that mere presence or fear of “imminent danger” was not ground to declare martial law, much more extend martial law.
He said this danger had been deleted in the 1987 Constitution which mandates that actual rebellion or invasion should be the basis for martial or its further extension.
But Medialdea noted that drug syndicates and peace spoilers were “connectors” to the Maute terrorist group, giving them financial support from the illegal drug operations.
He said there were indications drug syndicates were helping the terrorist group which engaged government forces in heavy firefight in Marawi City.
He said since martial law was enforced in Marawi City two months ago, large volume of illegal drugs and a huge amount of money were confiscated from the NPA and peace spoilers.
Hontiveros dismissed any move to extend martial law saying there are the provisions in the Revised Penal Code (RPC) and the Human Security Act to neutralize the terror groups. She said the existing laws provide strict penalties against terrorists and rebels.
Under other laws, she insisted the AFP can achieve its objectives — quell terrorism and rebellion even without the implementation of martial law in Mindanao.
She cited the Human Security Act, which increases the power of the state against terrorism and the Revised Penal Code, (where) warrantless arrests can be effected without martial law, considering that rebellion is a crime.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said martial law was an added tool “to our soldiers, to policemen. And if we are to arrest (terrorists and rebels) immediately as fast as we could… if we are to impose curfew, we would appreciate it if you arm us with what is provided by the powers of martial law.”
Esperon emphasized Duterte’s martial law was different than Marcos’ martial law (September 1972 to January 1981) because democratic institutions such as the courts, Congress, and local government units remain functional despite the martial rule in Mindanao.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, also president of the minority Liberal Party, proposed that the Armed Forces and the Commission on Human Rights coordinate with human rights groups to submit regular reports on the human rights situation in the martial law-covered areas.
Sen. Lorenzana agreed with the proposal.
While she supported an extension of martial law, Sen. Grace Poe vouched for a congressional monitoring mechanism on the ground from the military since they were the ones on the ground to give senators regular briefing, assessment on human rights and assessment on the situation of evacuees.
She also asked the Commission on Human Rights for a statement when it comes to the assumption or the claim that there has been no human rights violation.
An emotional Samira Mutoc, a native of Marawi City, and head of the Ranao Rescue team, spelled out what she claimed were the human rights abuses committed by soldiers on residents of the city. Her account was contrary to those of the military officials and the government.
Sen. Cynthia Villar said she voted yes to show support to the country’s mostly young soldiers –100 of whom died — to prevent the movement of terrorists to and from Marawi City.
Drilon frowned on the martial law extension.
“(The threat) is still present. Once Marawi City is free from these terrorists, the harder part of rehabilitating and rebuilding begins. The builders could constantly be under threat by the terrorists similar to what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan who were constantly harassed by firefights and bombings,” said Sen. Miguel Zubiri.
The law-maker from Mindanao lamented that the economic development in the past few years was shattered by the extremist terrorists.
But Sen. Recto said, “If they say it is vital to victory, then such must not be denied to them. I am not swayed by the commander-in-chief sauntering into the frontlines, nor by his rambling commentaries on war. I would rather give credence to the wounded Army lieutenant who testified earlier.”
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said he is supporting martial law extension because he believes that there are scattered armed groups not only in Marawi City but in other parts of Mindanao.
On the part of the House, Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas sponsored Duterte’s request on martial law extension.
Militant lawmakers led by Reps. Edcel Lagman of Albay objected to it. “What is happening in Marawi City is lawless violence amounting to terrorism but not actual rebellion. The President and his subalterns failed to sufficiently show the element of culpable political purpose of the terrorist groups,” Lagman said in explaning his “no” vote.
For Sen. Vicente Sotto III, human rights abuses can easily be exposed by social media. He supported Poe’s stance that martial law be lifted if abuses were committed and the President cannot do anything about it.
He pointed out that the present martial law is very much different frim the martial imposed during the Marcos regime. He even sees that martial law would be lifted before Christmas.
He also said martial law can be revoked beyond the 150-day period approved by Congress if the situation in Mindanao will go back to normal.