POSTSCRIPT / June 15, 2017 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Let Duterte edit his martial law decree?

CAN President Rodrigo Duterte be allowed under the rules to issue a “Proclamation 216-B,” or an updated version of his decree, editing the portions of his original edict imposing martial law on all of Mindanao that have been questioned before the Supreme Court?

Without knowing if such a mid-trial correction is permitted, this non-lawyer suggests that he be allowed, because innocent Filipinos continue to be killed in the four-week-old lawless violence that the Commander-in-Chief seeks to stop with the help of his martial law powers.

Aside from the fighting on the ground, the government has to pass the legal test before the Supreme Court. It would help if the Commander-in-Chief could overcome quickly the challenge to the factual basis of his proclamation.

A debacle in the high court would weaken the state’s position in the public mind and in the streets of Marawi already littered with blood and rubble. A legal and psychological win for the Maute terrorists and their Islamic confederates would be catastrophic.

The uprising in Marawi is a continuing crime requiring a continuing response. Firming up the legal underpinning of the state’s defense of martial law should be a continuing effort.

If the Commander-in-Chief has to adjust his martial law proclamation to correspond to the facts and the law, he should be given a reasonable opportunity to do it — if that adjustment is crucial to beating the ruthless enemies of the state.

Section 18, Article VII, of the Constitution upon which Proclamation 216 was based on May 23, 2017, speaks of rebellion, one of two bases for the imposition of martial law.

Since there is a question of whether or not the lawless violence in Marawi/Mindanao on May 23, was an ongoing rebellion at that time, a Proclamation 216-B could be issued TODAY — when a raging rebellion is fully documented and publicly acknowledged.

There are other points in the questioned proclamation requiring clarification. One is why martial law was imposed on all of Mindanao when the lawless violence started in Marawi. Can an updated proclamation be issued to address a question like that?

There would be no need to issue an amended martial law decree, as we suggest, if most of the SC justices – cognizant of the crisis gripping Mindanao — could see the point of the Commander-in-Chief and uphold his Proclamation 216 as is.

Such a straightforward ruling in favor of the government would cut the debate, speed up the “liberation” of Marawi and the quelling of related lawlessness in contiguous areas in Mindanao. But at this point the debate in the SC could go either way.

• Netizens warned on propaganda

THE DEPARTMENT of Information and Communication Technology, meanwhile, warned that netizens could be arrested if caught spreading enemy propaganda such as claims of the Islamic State that has been trying to establish a toehold in Muslim Mindanao.

The problem is that in the helter-skelter of sometimes confusing data, netizens may not be able to determine what is propaganda and what is not, or whether propaganda of the government should be given equal weight as contrary information from other sources.

An important step that the government should take in the midst of the fighting influenced by public perception is to speak with one clear voice on the situation in the martial law area.

Confusing or conflicting statements give the impression of lack of coordination, and may cast doubts on the reliability of information being given by government.

Like the other day, Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, said that Maute and Abu Sayyaf fighters were holed up in “only” four barangays in Marawi.

The announcement surprised some quarters because the military said days earlier that the terrorists had been cornered in three barangays. It would now seem the area they control has widened, which could be alarming.

Still, Galvez pointed out that the terrorists’ being confined to four barangays belied claims of the Islamic State that they controlled almost the entire city. The barangays were identified as Marinaut, Lulut, Mapandi and the Bongolo commercial district.

• Battle reports require validation

WHICHEVER claim is correct goes to show that figures of both sides cited in war reports are subject to validation. The correctness of facts also applies, if we may add, to claims of parties to the legal question on Marawi before the Supreme Court.

An example of information in conflict areas needing clarification is a report that mosques were being targeted in surgical airstrikes because some Maute fighters have been hiding in mosques in Marawi.

On the face of it, the report is doubtful because it is a delicate matter to hit mosques, churches and such religious sites. But Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesman of the 1st Infantry Division, said earlier that if terrorists used mosques as snipers’ nest, they would be targeted.

Later, however, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, army spokesman, clarified that the military would not target mosques. He said in a TV interview: “There is strict instruction from the chief of staff (Gen. Eduardo Año) that we will respect these areas, these places of worship.”

But he explained: “If the enemy uses the parapets or the high areas of the mosque as sniper lairs, (the military) may hit those areas alone, but we will not bomb the mosque itself.”

Padilla said the urban terrain was hampering army operations, because the rebels had positioned themselves in built-up neighborhoods and sometimes used civilians as human shield.

The military has stopped giving estimates of when Marawi could be “liberated.” The last target date was June 12, Independence Day, but the deadline was not met.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 15, 2017)

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