Philippines: Human rights and militant groups challenge martial law extension
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Philippines: Human rights and militant groups challenge martial law extension

WITH the Marawi siege over, the extension of martial law in Mindanao is unconstitutional and should be scrapped to avoid worsening human rights abuses in the southern Philippines by state forces.

This was the gist of the second petition filed before the Supreme Court on Monday questioning the recent decision of the Philippine Congress to prolong martial law in Mindanao until Dec 31, 2018, upon the request of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The petitioners composed of human rights advocates and militant groups such as the National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL) and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance), among others, asserted that the extension of martial law in Mindanao lacks the legal basis required by the Constitution.

SEE ALSO: Philippines: Communist rebels vow fierce resistance to martial law in Mindanao

NUPL chairman Neri Colmenares said the Constitution only allowed the imposition of martial law when there was actual rebellion and when the operations of civilian government were substantially impaired.

“The government is functioning in Davao City and the entire country, so why replace it with martial rule?” the former lawmaker asked in a statement. Davao City is Duterte’s hometown, where her daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio is also the mayor.

Colmenares said that justifying martial law on grounds such as the rehabilitation of Marawi or to “completely” eradicate the rebels were not grounds under the Constitution.

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Protests resisting a return to dictatorship, 2014. Source: Edwin Espejo

“Allowing these dangerously vague grounds will pave the way for President Rodrigo Duterte’s imposition of martial law in the entire county since he can claim that there are rebels even in Metro Manila. We will have a ‘24/7 convenience store martial law’ that is imposed at all hours every day of the week in the entire country. This cannot be allowed,” Colmenares said.

Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law on May 23 for 60 days, hours after the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group attacked Marawi. Congress, upon the request of Duterte, extended martial law until Dec 31, 2017.

But before 2017 ended, Congress again yielded to the request of the president to extend martial law until the end of 2018 to quell the continuing threats of terrorism in Mindanao.

SEE ALSO: Martial law in southern Philippines could intensify ‘massive’ rights abuses – UN

In October, the government terminated military operations in Marawi five months after the Maute Group laid siege on the city now left in shambles. Over 400,000 civilians were displaced by the intense fighting that also left some 1,100 people killed, mostly Islamic militants.

Besides the defeated Maute Group, the government said other Islamic State-inspired groups such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines and the communist New People’s Army rebels, among others, pose continuing security threats to Mindanao.

The petitioners also argued the extension is unjustified and will only result in increased human rights violations, claiming that “the real targets of martial law are not really the armed rebels but critics and activists who oppose the regime’s anti-people policies.”

“Human rights violations escalated since martial law was imposed last year and this extension will lead to more human rights violations,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of rights group Karapatan or the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights.

“The problem is, President Duterte will actually target activists and the opposition just as Marcos cracked down on dissent when he imposed martial law in 1972. Martial Law will pave the way for another dictatorship,” she said.

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Duterte gestures while delivering a speech during his visit to Bangolo town, Marawi city, southern Philippines Oct 17, 2017. Source: Reuters

The petitioners also charged both the Senate and the House of Representatives, which comprise Congress, with grave abuse of discretion for allowing the extension despite the “absence of the constitutionally required factual basis.”

“When the battle in Marawi was raging, Congress extended martial law for five months. Now that the battle in Marawi is over, Congress extends it by one year. This is absurd,” said Bayan Muna representative Carlos Zarate, who hails from Davao.

Four other petitioners were from Mindanao including Anakpawis representative Ariel Casilao, indigenous people’s leader Eufemia Cullamat, human rights campaigner Noli Villanueva and Save Our Schools coordinator Rius Valle.

SEE ALSO: Report alleges Philippine troops detained, tortured civilians in Marawi

Earlier, opposition party stalwarts led by Albay representative Edcel Lagman filed a similar petition before the Supreme Court.

On Monday as the second petition was filed, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana defended anew the extension of martial law, noting that military rule is still needed in Mindanao due to the continuing threats from terrorist groups.

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The Philippine flag is held by a soldier after government troops cleared the area from pro-Islamic State militant groups inside a war-torn area in Bangolo town, Marawi City, on Oct 23, 2017. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

“There is a continuing reorganisation [of terrorist groups],” he said, warning they are planning to wage another Marawi-like urban attack.

Lorenzana said the Armed Forces of the Philippines is ready to face the new petition against the martial law extension in Mindanao filed before the High Tribunal.

Lorenzana said they would answer the latest petition using the same arguments asserted by the Office of the Solicitor-General on the first petition. Commenting on the first petition against martial law extension, Solicitor-General Jose Calida claimed that “there is rebellion in Mindanao.”

“Until the rebellion is quelled, there is reason to extend martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus,” Calida said.