From the military and the police, President Rodrigo Duterte elevated the burden of decision making on the proposed extension of martial law in Mindanao beyond this year to the National Security Council (NSC) composed of Cabinet officials and members of Congress.
“Taking into account the lingering terrorist and communist threats, the NSC executive committee committed to put into study the possible lifting or further extension of martial law therein,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
Panelo added among the factors initially considered during the NSC meeting was the outlook of the people of Mindanao, an overwhelming majority of whom support martial law “in view of the present situation they are in.”
The effect of martial law extension on the pace of the Marawi rehabilitation as well as regaining normalcy in Mindanao and the indispensable constitutional and legal factors has also been considered by the council.
Mr. Duterte considers national security as the “most vital concern” that must always be overseen by his government, Panelo said.
Panelo added the President convened the NSC on 30 October in Cebu.
As chairman of the NSC executive committee, Mr. Duterte reviewed and discussed matters concerning perceived threats, local and foreign, to the country’s security with select officials of government, he said.
Among those tackled was the recent “anarchical activities” of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) and the National Democratic Front (NDF), Panelo said.
Mr. Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law on 23 May last year when Islamic State (IS)-inspired Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists occupied Marawi City resulting in nearly five months of heavy fighting that left much of the city in ruins.
Congress granted Duterte’s request for martial law extension in December 2017.
“The President was unwavering with regard to the issue of the communist group’s efforts in infiltrating and overthrowing the government,” he said.
Terror tag pursued
The Palace official said the President has directed the Department of Justice (DoJ) to pursue the proscription case against the CPP-NPA-NDF as a terrorist organization.
Panelo said Duterte has also directed the justice department to conduct an in-depth investigation on the shooting incident in Sagay that resulted in the death of nine farmers.
“The Chief Executive likewise announced the creation of the National Task Force to address the armed conflict occasioned by the local communists,” he said.
Last February, the DoJ filed a petition before the Manila Regional Trial Court to formally declare the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization after Duterte signed Proclamation 374 which declared the communist group terrorists.
Mr. Duterte also ordered an in-depth investigation be conducted on the killing of nine sugarcane farmers in Sagay, Negros Occidental almost two weeks ago.
The President, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police have tagged the communist rebels as masterminds in the massacre, accusing them of killing their comrades to shift the blame on the government.
The CPP had since denied involvement and linked the killings to agrarian violence perpetrated by state forces.
Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. had said earlier it was still premature to recommend the extension of martial law in Mindanao.
“For now, our assessment is ongoing. We will visit Western Mindanao and Eastern Mindanao,” he said.
The Philippine National Police (PNP), however, supported an extended martial law.
“If it will help. If we think the President or the government is inclined to extend the martial law, we will support it,” PNP Chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said.