The Senate on Tuesday advised the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to justify its recommendation for the extension of martial law in Mindanao by another year through a security briefing.
Although the Senate quickly concurred with Congress on President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial rule in Mindanao through Proclamation 216 on 23 May 2017 following an attack by a religious extremist group in Marawi, several lawmakers said the AFP is likely to face tough questions this time.
Martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao was declared by President Duterte at 10 p.m. of 23 May last year during an escalation of conflict between the IS-inspired Maute Group and the military.
On 23 July 2017, Congress voted 261–18 to extend the rule.
A second extension was granted through a vote of 240–27 (14–4 from the Senate, 226–23 from the House) on 23 December 2017.
The AFP said a third extension is needed amid a “lurking threat of terror.”
But senators want to be briefed first by the AFP before deciding on its proposed one-year extension of martial law.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the AFP should convince the lawmakers by justifying its proposal.
“We have to have a briefing with AFP, so we can decide intelligently (on the matter),” Sotto said.
On Monday, AFP chief of staff Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. announced the military will be recommending a one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao, citing threats from terrorists and the security needed for the upcoming midterm elections.
Galvez, however, stressed that the extension law will only be confined to Mindanao.
Sotto said the Senate is willing to hold a special session, if necessary, to hear the AFP justify its proposal.
Senators Panfilo Lacson, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Aquilino Pimentel III and Sonny Angara also said they want the AFP to outline its Mindanao security program.
But Lacson stressed the military will have to do more to convince the lawmakers.
“We may have to listen to their (military officials’) briefing and answer our questions first to find out what good martial law has brought to the people of Mindanao since Congress voted to concur with the President’s proclamation and its subsequent extension,” Lacson said.
“This time, they should expect harder questions than before,” he added.
Ejercito said the “AFP is in a better position to say if there is a need for martial law to be extended.”
“I am in favor of the extension of martial law for the very reason that it limits movements of private armies. The problem of loose firearms in Mindanao is also being addressed with martial law in effect,” Ejercito added.
The senator stressed that “as long as there is no violation of human rights recorded, then I am in favor, because most Mindanaoans I talked to are happy and contented with martial law in Mindanao.”
“We will wait for the briefing from the AFP because there are requirements under the Constitution. I think what the lawmakers will be concerned about is if there is really a necessity,” Angara said.
Pimentel, meanwhile, said: “I will keep an open mind. I voted in the past two requests in favor of extension of martial law. There should be a briefing and justification even after one year and seven months.”
“The burden to give a comprehensive report should come from the AFP,” he added.