MANILA, Philippines – At the joint session of Congress on extending martial law, the military admitted recommending the five-month extension of martial law in Mindanao, saying it needed that much time to defeat extremist groups perceived to be active in three other provinces.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea also acknowledged that government intended likewise to target communist rebels, whom he said were among the “peace spoilers.”
But Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the martial law administrator, quickly assured that targeting the communists did not mean there are plans to expand martial law nationwide.
After the Maute group in Marawi City, Lorenzana said government troops will also run after extremist groups in three provinces – Basilan, Sulu and Maguindanao.
This was one of the reasons cited by defense and security officials in justifying the extension of martial law in Mindanao up to December 31, 2017.
“Ang hiling ng military ay i-extend ng hanggang December 31 dahil kahit tapos na ang Marawi ay marami pa tayong problema na susuungin sa Basilan, Sulu at Maguindanao (The military asked to extend it until December 31 because even after finishing with Marawi, there is still slop to mop up in Basilan, Sulu, and Maguindanao),” Lorenzana said, elaborating that Marawi had diverted attention and resources from Sulu, Basilan.
Medialdea, Lorenzana and Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Eduardo Año gave the briefing to the Senators and members of the House of Representatives, who convened in joint session.
Several senators and House members who took up interepellations questioned the basis for the five-month extension.
In its report, the AFP indicated that only four out of the 96 barangays in Marawi City are not yet controlled by government forces.
If this was the case, then why does the AFP need 150 more days of martial law, Senator Francis Pangilinan, a member of the minority and chairperson of the Liberal Party (LP), asked.
“There is very little actual fighting, but martial law continues. For the four barangays, why need 150 days? If we limit this to, say, 60 days, will this render the AFP incapable or ineffective in dealing with rebellion?” he said.
Lorenzana replied, saying, “Hindi naman po, but we need some leeway to finish our job.”
If there will be an extension of martial law, Pangilinan proposed the inclusion of a provision mandating the AFP and the Commission on Human Rights, in coordination with human rights groups, to submit a weekly report of the human rights situation in the areas of operation.
Lorenzana welcomed the proposal.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman asked about the additional powers to be vested in the military that they could not otherwise avail of if martial law was not extended.
Año replied that, while the siege of the Maute group focused on Marawi City, extremist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters could also launch attacks in other areas.
“They have been directed to carry out attacks in other areas. It just happened that we are able to restrict the movement of armed groups to conduct bombings,” he said.
“We are asking for more time because we don’t want to finish just Marawi … but go after other threat groups,” Año added.
Senator Grace Poe called in a Marawi resident, Samirah Gutoc, to narrate her experience as an evacuee.
“I am from Marawi City, please ask us how we feel,” Gutoc said. She narrated that some of the residents were interrogated if they were members of the terrorist Maute Group, that residents were asked to remove their shirts and made to walk with blindfold, and that some were also asked to dig their graves.
Jose Luis Martin “Chito” C. Gascon, chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, said that, while his agency has yet to receive a formal complaint of human rights violations, it does not mean that there are no such cases.
He said CHR is continuing the documentation of the stories of Marawi residents in the first 60 days under martial law.
Click and watch a video clip of Samirah Gutoc addressing the joint session below: