THE PHILIPPINE Congress on Wednesday approved President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to extend martial law in the entire Mindanao island for one year, enraging civil society, church and militant groups.
In a joint session, the Senate and House of Representatives granted Duterte’s request for martial law extension and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus from Jan 1 to Dec 31, 2018 in Mindanao, where Islamic State-inspired militants tried but failed to establish a “wilayat” (province) in Marawi City that was left in shambles after a five-month war with government troops.
Duterte declared martial in Mindanao on May 23 after the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group attacked Marawi that displaced over 400,000 civilians. The declaration was good for 60 days but Congress approved Duterte’s request to extend it until Dec 31, 2017.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 14-4 to extend martial law for one year in Mindanao while 226 favoured and 23 opposed from the House of Representatives. Civil society groups responded strongly, fearing there will be an increase in human rights violations and state-sponsored killings in the southern Philippines.
In seeking a one-year extension as recommended by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, the president justified that the military rule will “ensure total eradication of the Daesh (Islamic State)-inspired Da’awatul Islamiyah Waliyatul Masriq (DIWM), other like-minded local and foreign terror groups and armed lawless groups, the communist terrorists and their coddlers, supporters, and financiers.”
“Public safety indubitably requires such further extension, not only for the sake of security and public order, but more importantly to enable the government and the people of Mindanao to pursue the bigger task of rehabilitation and the promotion of a stable socio-economic growth and development,”Duterte said in a letter dated Dec 8.
Duterte said remnants of the groups of the Maute brothers and Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon have started recruiting and training new fighters. Isnilon, the designated emir of Islamic State in Southeast Asia, and the Maute brothers were killed during the Marawi siege.
He said members and allies of the DIWM were continuing their efforts in regrouping in Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Sulu and Basilan provinces, geared to establish a wilayat in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
Duterte also cited threats from the Turaifie Group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in seeking a one-year martial law extension.
The NPA, which is waging the longest running communist insurgency in Asia, took advantage of the war in Marawi and intensified its “terroristic acts” in different areas of the country, Duterte said.
“These recent developments involving the NDF-CPP-NPA forebode another year of intensified armed hostilities which, together with other security concerns described above, continue to make Mindanao the hotbed of rebellion,” he said.
NDF stands for National Democratic Front and CPP for Communist Party of the Philippines. Duterte classified both groups as terrorist organisations early this month due to their intensified offensives in Mindanao and other parts of the country.
In defending Duterte’s request to extend martial law for one year, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said that while the situation in Marawi has changed substantially, the battlefield against violent Islamic extremism has moved to other parts of Mindanao.
The government terminated military operations in Marawi on Oct 23, exactly five months after the Maute Group laid siege on the Muslim-dominated lakeside city. “We are not seeking unlimited martial law but unlimited peace in Mindanao,” Medialdea said.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that Islamic State-aligned groups were actively recruiting Muslim young people again. “They (terrorists) have not stopped but moved to other places (in Mindanao),” he said.
Opposition Senator Franklin Drilon slammed Duterte’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao for one year.
“There is no longer a state of rebellion (in Mindanao) but only threats at this point,” Drilon said, noting that an extension is “a violation of the constitution” given the prevailing situation in the island. There is no actual uprising in Mindanao that warrants an extension of martial law, the senator added.
Drilon feared the martial law extension in Mindanao is a prelude to the declaration of martial law in the entire country. The senator earlier vowed the opposition party will question the granting of another extension before the Supreme Court.
Sadrach Sabella, spokesman of human rights group Karapatan or Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights in Central Mindanao region, said martial law extension “will only further embolden the military to violate the rights of poor civilians.”
“The militarisation, especially in remote communities, will intensify further to silence the dissent of marginalised individuals against mining companies and big projects in their ancestral domains,” he told Asian Correspondent.
Sabella said harassments such as surveillance against activists criticising the government have been rising since Duterte assumed power in June 2016. With martial law extension, it will not wane especially with Duterte’s tirades against the leftists, he added.
At least two members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in Mindanao, Bishops Edwin dela Pena of Marawi and Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, have expressed opposition to the extension of martial law in Mindanao.
Ledesma said extending martial law in Mindanao would only scare investors while dela Pena said it should not be Mindanao-wide but should only include areas of tension.
Shortly after the Marawi siege erupted, the Catholic bishops in Mindanao said that martial law in the island should only be temporary.
In a statement, the Movement Against Tyranny, which is composed of religious, academic, media and civil society groups, said extending the martial law for another year “is a threat to Philippine democracy.”
“We fear that the President wants to use martial law to escalate his bloody anti-illegal drugs and counter-insurgency campaigns, crackdown on dissent and intimidate the public into submission,” the group said.