By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent
The extension of martial law in Mindanao for five years or even longer becomes more certain as President Duterte meets with senators next week to discuss this plan. Duterte is apparently seeking the consent of the Senate in extending martial rule beyond the 60-day limit set by the Constitution for such a proclamation.
Duterte’s meeting with the senators led by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III comes a day after Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez announced in a press briefing that he planned to persuade Congress to extend martial law in Mindanao for five years to give President Duterte further elbow room in stopping terrorism and rebellion in the south.
This drew jeers of “unli” (unlimited martial law) from the political opposition, still smarting from the setback it received last week when the Supreme Court debunked their petitions to declare martial law in Mindanao unconstitutional.
Duterte imposed military rule in Mindanao on May 23 after Islamic State-inspired Maute terrorists occupied Marawi City, torched several buildings and kidnapped dozens of civilians.
The 1987 Constitution permits the President to impose martial law for up to 60 days but this can be extended by Congress if the invasion or rebellion persists and public safety requires it. Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao will lapse on July 23.
Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla told a press briefing that security forces are still assessing whether to recommend the extension of martial law but he said five years may be too long.
“The Armed Forces, before it makes its recommendation to the commander-in-chief, must have enough basis, an intelligent basis, to make whatever recommendations there are for the extension or the lifting,” Padilla said.
He said the Armed Forces of the Philippines will soon submit to Malacañang its recommendation on whether to extend or lift martial law based on operational objectives it had set when martial rule was declared.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier said the Constitution is clear that Congress has the power to extend martial law and the President may only recommend.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sta. Romana Panelo, however, argued that in case Congress fails to extend the May 23 martial law declaration, Duterte can just issue another martial law proclamation since the Constitution does not explicitly state that the president can only declare martial law once.
Government offensives in Marawi City entered their eighth week last July 11 but the Islamic State-linked terrorists have shown no signs of giving up despite relentless bombings and ground operations of state troops.
From the original number of forces of about 500, the military said the number of terrorists still holed up in the city is now down to about 80. These include leaders of the Maute group and top Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.
Padilla said even though government forces have made significant gains in the fight against terrorists holed up in the city, the security situation in the entire Mindanao will be considered in making recommendation on the extension of the martial law declaration.
The military has a hard time re-taking parts of Marawi still controlled by the terrorists, as snipers from the enemy side still lurk around the conflict zone. Government forces were also being careful in advancing towards enemy positions due to the presence of booby traps.