IS link to magnify siege as rebellion
THE IMPOSITION of martial law in Mindanao is likely to be upheld by the Supreme Court — if Malacanang could prove that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “ordered the conduct of terroristic activities in the Philippines,” as claimed Sunday by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Areas outside Mindanao could even be added later to the emergency coverage if the IS-instigated terrorism develops into a full-blown rebellion and spreads. Rebellion is one of only two situations (the other one being invasion) that could justify martial law.
The question that the Supreme Court must resolve within a 30-day deadline is whether or not there was a rebellion on May 23, 2017, when the Commander-in-Chief (the President) signed Proclamation No. 216 imposing martial law in Mindanao.
We hope we are wrong in thinking that images of the brutal Islamic State spreading its control over Muslim Mindanao on its way to establishing a global caliphate could cause concern and influence the judgment of normally staid magistrates.
Even without the reported IS intrusion in the South, Mr. Duterte’s proclamation could stand on its own legal leg if he could prove that a state of rebellion exists. He said he would obey whatever SC ruling is handed down, although he actually has no choice.
The evaluation of the factual basis of martial law is a subjective process. If majority of the 15 justices of the Court say a rebellion has been ongoing in Mindanao, then it must be so. As seasoned lawyers, they can argue any proposition either way.
Aside from their appreciation of the facts of the case, the perceived prevailing mood in the country and the level of trust that each of the magistrates has on President Duterte could swing the decision.
In Cagayan de Oro City over the weekend, President Duterte told reporters of the supposed order of the Islamic State leader to “conduct of terroristic activities in the Philippines.” He did not refer to Marawi or Mindanao, but to the Philippines.
He said: “We had known all along the buildup here in Marawi. That is why if you were tracking my statements in public, (what I said) was, ‘Do not force my hand into it.’ Because there were already terroristic acts… the victims were innocent men and women and children.
“We suffered several casualties. I did not expect it to be that serious. Now, lumabas na si Baghdadi mismo (it turned out that Baghdadi himself), the leader of the ISIS, has specifically ordered terroristic activities here in the Philippines.”
Mr. Duterte said earlier that local terrorist Isnilon Hapilon had been named local IS leader. There are reports that Hapilon and some Maute terrorist lieutenants are among those still cornered in Marawi, which might explain their fighting ferociously.
• Is Duterte ready to admit a rebellion?
ONE DILEMMA of the Duterte administration is whether or not to admit that a rebellion is raging in Mindanao. Such disclosure could damage its ambitious peace and development national agenda.
Malacañang has to declare the existence of a rebellion to justify martial law and use it in quelling lawlessness and terrorism. Such move could help instill fear among enemies of the state and justify police and prosecution shortcuts in anti-crime operations.
But will its contributing to faster police action offset the negative effects of a rebellion or a martial law situation on foreign investments, tourism and the overall image of the country?
With the widely publicized cases of extrajudicial killings and violations of human rights, the Philippines has dropped in the latest scoreboard of the Global Peace Index to second to the least peaceful nations in Asia-Pacific.
The Philippines ranked second only to North Korea. It is in the company of Myanmar, China, and Thailand among the top five least peaceful countries in the region. How will admitting a rebellion in the President’s own bailiwick – just to justify martial law — affect its standing?
• US attitude to IS intrusion watched
DESPITE the entry of a still unverified number of foreign jihadists, with one security analysis placing them at 1,400, the Philippine government does not call the reported IS intrusion an invasion.
One good reason is that it is not. There are no physical signs of any invasion. Another reason is that making such an admission is fraught with serious political, diplomatic and security implications.
Under the 1951 Phil-US Mutual Defense Treaty, for instance, the two allies are committed to rush to the defense of the other if attacked, on the principle that an attack on one is considered as an attack on the partner.
Interpretation, however, depends on what the treaty partners want to do together. They could enforce the contract any way they both want, provided they do not stray from the spirit of the agreement and still leave room for a different response in the future.
The Trump White House has been pivoting inward, cutting to a minimum its security entanglements abroad. It is not likely to allow an expanded interpretation resulting in US troops being sent to help fight IS-inspired terrorism in Mindanao.
The US personnel reportedly seen in Marawi were not combat troops sent in response to an attack under the MDT. They are just a handful of technicians helping their Filipino counterparts zero in on targeted terrorist lairs.
President Duterte was correct when he said that he did not talk to any American for the US to give the Philippine armed forces brand-new weapons to fight terrorists. The delivery was made under standing mechanisms without the President having to ask for them.