IF Philippines House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez could have his way, he would push Congress to extend martial law in Mindanao until 2022, to give President Rodrigo Duterte time to put an end to all terrorist activities in the restive region.
He reportedly said this in a phone interview with the Inquirer, although he stressed it was his personal opinion and not the view of the Philippines House of Representatives.
“If I can convince my colleagues, I will push for an extension until 2022, because two months is too short. Five months or one year or two years is too short,” he told the daily.
Alvarez was referring to the 60-day martial law declaration for Mindanao that Duterte declared on March 23 when fighting broke out between local forces and the Islamic State-linked Maute Group in Marawi City.
Duterte has not indicated any plan to lift martial law until its full 60-day term, not even before his second State of the National Address (Sona) scheduled for July 24, unless security officers tell him Mindanao is finally safe.
“I consulted the [military and the police] and [they] said it was critical,” the president was quoted saying last Friday in Davao City.
“It will be the armed forces and police who will say if it’s no longer critical.”
Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court affirmed Duterte’s martial law declaration in Mindanao, officially setting aside the opposition’s bid to invalidate it.
According to court spokesman Theodore Te, 11 of 15 justices upheld the president’s declaration, effectively nullifying petitions filed by opposition lawmakers, activist groups and four women from Marawi.
In recent remarks, Brig Gen Restituto Padilla, a spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the military’s assessment of the security situation in Mindanao was still ongoing.
He said a recommendation will be made to Duterte once the military is satisfied it has flushed out all terrorist elements from the district.
Duterte, added the spokesman, wants a recommendation before the end of the 60-day martial law period. The Philippines Constitution stipulates martial law can be imposed for 60 days, unless extended by the Congress.
Duterte’s martial law will expire on July 22, two days before he delivers his Sona.
For Alvarez, however, martial law should continue.
“If the president asks for an extension, my personal position – not the position of the House of Representatives – is, as a Mindanaoan, I want to extend it until 2022.”
“Why? To stop this thing. This is not just IS, there’s also the rebellion of the NPA that’s more than 40 years,” the congressman was quoted in Inquirer as saying, referring to the Islamic State and to the communist-led New People’s Army.
Fighting in Marawi City erupted on May 23 following the failed raid on the hideout of wanted terrorist Isnilon Hapilon, who the IS has designated as its “emir” of Southeast Asia.
The militant’s whereabouts are still unknown, although there have been numerous conflicting reports – some claiming he had fled while others say he was still in hiding. Through daily land and air assaults, as well as armed reinforcements from the United States and Australia, local security forces have nearly crippled the Maute Group, which is said to be fast running out of members and supplies.
Last Wednesday, security forces nabbed the main financier and logistics supporter of the group, following a raid on a village not far from Marawi.
More than 400 have been killed in the fighting so far, while hundreds of thousands have been displaced.