BY ASKING for another extension of emergency martial law in Mindanao, this time until the end of 2019, President Duterte was admitting his failure to curb lawlessness in his own backyard during the two years he has exercised his Commander-in-Chief powers.
The Congress that is dominated by his followers voted Wednesday to reward his failure with another year of martial rule, continuing the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and allowing the detention of anybody for three days without charges.
Convened in joint session, the Congress gave the President more rope to hang either himself or his detractors. The combined vote for martial law extension was 235 for and 28 against it. One senator bearing an illustrious name seemed to have lost his bearings and abstained.
Martial rule in Mindanao was first declared on May 23, 2017, within hours of the Maute attack in Marawi, Lanao del Sur. The complicit Congress has since approved its imposition thrice — first extending it until Dec. 31, 2017, then until the end of 2018, and this time till Dec. 31, 2019.
One political implication is that the critical election in May 2019 for the members of the next Congress will be held under the cloud of martial rule in Mindanao, Duterte’s bailiwick that accounts for some 23+ percent of the national voting population of 54+ million.
(In the bad old days, Mindanao voting results often reached Manila somewhat delayed to somehow “correct” the national tally.)
Some respect-for-law advocates talk of running to the Supreme Court to question the constitutionality of the latest martial rule extension. This non-lawyer thinks, however, that that will just be a futile exercise, considering that the law is whatever the tribunal says it is.
Section 18, Article VII, of the Constitution says in part: “xxx In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he (the President) may, for a period not exceeding 60 days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law. xxx Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may xxx extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.”
Section 18 also says: “The suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall apply only to persons judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in, or directly connected with, invasion.
“During the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, any person thus arrested or detained shall be judicially charged within three days, otherwise he shall be released.”
• Mixed Palace signals are confusing
MALACAÑANG statements can be confusing. Despite the alleged rebellion, the administration claims to have gained substantial economic gains in Mindanao under martial law. Duterte boasts of having neutralized terror groups and guerilla fronts, aside from seizing loose firearms.
On Friday, the Pasig regional trial court convicted more than 60 Abu Sayyaf extremists over the kidnapping of several villagers, including children, in Basilan in 2000 – when martial law had not been imposed yet.
Those originally charged included Abu Sayyaf leaders Khadaffy Janjalani, Aldam Tilao alias Abu Ahmad Sabaya, Isnilon Hapilon and Hector Janjalani. Khadaffy, Tilao, and Hapilon were killed battling government forces, while Janjalani is detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig.
Trying to accept martial rule as the new normal in governance, we still cannot see the alleged invasion or rebellion which is the only constitutional justification for the extreme act of declaring martial law.
We are aware of the creeping invasion of our maritime areas by a bully neighbor, but it seems the President was not referring to the invasive moves of his BFF-creditor. Although we have heard of killings and lawlessness, we have not read factual reports of a rebellion raging in Duterte’s backyard.
What we have heard are military and police claims, many of which only dramatize their failure to maintain peace and order despite massive mobilization, billions of pesos for intelligence, and the collateral damage to non-combatants.
In his letter to the Congress asking for another extension of martial rule until the end of 2019, Duterte said:
“A further extension of the implementation of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao will enable the AFP, the PNP, and all other law enforcement agencies to finally put an end to the ongoing rebellion in Mindanao and continue to prevent the same from escalating in other parts of the country.”
To illustrate the alleged rebellion, the President said the Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Daulah Islamiyah (DI) and other terrorist bands continue to engage in hostilities, such as bombings, in Mindanao.
Duterte said: “The DI forces continue to pursue their rebellion xxx by furthering the conduct of their radicalization activities, and continuing to recruit new members, especially in vulnerable Muslim communities.”
He added that Abu Sayyaf factions in Sulu are still engaged in kidnapping for ransom. He also mentioned the supposed intention of communists to seize political power through violence (in Mindanao?).
Such lawlessness is part of the territory that a competent administration should be able to meet head-on without resorting to emergency martial rule. The tools needed are there, if only those to whom they have been entrusted know how to use them.
After decades of campaigning to contain the depredations of terrorist groups and bandits — the last two years under the Duterte regime — the military-police-political apparatus should have mastered the conflict on the ground.
We hope the healthy, at times wary, skepticism of some concerned citizens does not trigger Special Operations to exacerbate the textbook lawlessness to start looking like the full-blown rebellion festering in Duterte’s weary mind.