POSTSCRIPT / June 1, 2017 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Is martial law key to stopping Maute?

IMPOSING martial law in Mindanao was not that crucial to government forces’ being able to neutralize the Maute terrorists who wrought havoc on Marawi City last week, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told senators in a security briefing on Monday.

Lorenzana’s assessment was disclosed by some senators after he apprised them of the basis of Proclamation No. 216 of President Rodrigo Duterte placing Mindanao under martial law on May 23, when fighting erupted between Maute and state forces.

After the briefing, Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon told the media that Sen. Antonio Trillanes had asked the defense secretary “Can we contain Maute without martial law?” and that Lorenzana answered, “Yes, we can.”

Trillanes recalled: “When asked, the security officials (in the briefing) said hindi sila yung nagrekomenda (na magdeklara ng martial law).

Lorenzana confirmed in effect what Postscript noted last week: “The combined might of the armed forces and the police in Mindanao, under competent leadership, should be more than enough to neutralize the Maute marauders – said to be only 100-200 in number.

“It appears that the Maute pillage of Marawi gave President Duterte what he has been looking for — an opening and a justification to carry out his intention to declare martial law in Mindanao, if not in the entire country.” See:

In fact, resorting to martial law is tacit admission by the Chief Executive of his failure to perform his sworn duty to guard the peace and enforce the law in the absence of invasion or rebellion – the only emergencies that the Constitution lays down as bases for martial law.

Versus Maute, there are around 160,000 men in the armed forces, plus an equal number in the national police. (The numbers follow an unwritten equation balancing military and civilian security forces.) Of the P3.35-trillion national budget, the AFP has P130.6 billion and the PNP P110 billion.

(Pahabol: After we wrote this column, Lorenzana clarified that although he admitted telling the senators that the armed forces could deal with Maute fighters in Marawi, it was another situation in the rest of Mindanao. More of his explanation is at the end of this piece.)

• Your senators’ vote on martial law

DESPITE the expert opinion of the defense secretary, 15 of the 23 senators voted “Yes” when Senate Resolution No. 388 saying that the martial law declaration was “satisfactory, constitutional, and in accordance with the law” was put to a vote.

The pro-martial law senators were Koko Pimentel (Senate president), Ralph Recto, Tito Sotto, Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, JV Ejercito, Win Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Gringo Honasan, Ping Lacson, Loren Legarda, Manny Pacquiao, Joel Villanueva, Cynthia Villar and Miguel Zubiri.

Eight senators did not sign Resolution-388: Francis Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, Bam Aquino, Leila de Lima, Risa Hontiveros, Antonio Trillanes, Grace Poe and Francis Escudero. There should be 24 senators, but Allan Cayetano has joined the Cabinet as secretary of foreign affairs.

Using their overwhelming number, senators and congressmen aligned with President Duterte are blocking attempts to convene a joint session to force a vote – in the hope of putting on record how individual lawmakers stood on the issue and why.

Section 18, Article VII, does not require the Congress’ approval of an initial 60 days of martial law – it is already being enforced in Mindanao – but allows the legislature by a majority vote of its two chambers convened in joint session to revoke its proclamation.

Revocation is a remote possibility since many lawmakers are beholden to Mr. Duterte and would do everything to be on his side. And as they say, we are all sinners. That makes most principal actors on the political stage vulnerable and are thus forced to be on good behavior.

• Battle shifts soon to Supreme Court

AS WE see it, the chances are bleak of any citizen petitioner shooting down Duterte’s creeping martial law by challenging before the Supreme Court the factual bases of its proclamation.

Such a move looks odd to many of us non-lawyers who have been told that the high court is not a trier of facts. The Constitution itself says, however, that the SC is the proper venue for threshing out the factual bases of martial law. So it must be.

What if the President says that only he holds the verified version of the intelligence used as basis for his martial law proclamation? How can contrary facts be produced?

The situation opens another exciting possibility – that of responsible military officers motivated by duty coming forward with validated intelligence disputing the facts submitted by the Commander-in-Chief.

That is one glorious juncture when the armed forces – designated by the Constitution (Section 3, Article II) as the “protector of the people and the State” – can rise to the occasion and serve the people.

Still another hypothetical occasion when the military may intervene is if the Supreme Court rules against the Commander-in-Chief’s proclamation and he refuses to obey. Military intervention can take various guises– including withdrawal of loyalty or a coup d’etat.

But this is going ahead of the cataclysmic events unfolding before us.

• DND chief clarifies ML remarks

WHILE Secretary Lorenzana confirmed what he told senators in their briefing, he said that martial law is still “imperative to once and for all address security concerns in the entire Mindanao immediately and decisively.”

“The situation currently being dealt with by state security forces goes beyond Marawi City,” he said, stressing that the imposition of martial law “aims to end the long-running rebellion in the South, as evidenced by incidents in Zamboanga, Davao, Bohol, Lanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi and Maguindanao.”

He recalled the President’s repeated remarks “kung magde-declare ako ng martial law, tatapusin ko nang lahat ito,” referring to threats posed by alleged ISIS-linked local and foreign terrorist groups whose network, he said, covers the entire Mindanao.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 1, 2017)

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