Senate to seek separate Palace briefing on martial law

Camille Elemia
Senate to seek separate Palace briefing on martial law
'Responsible officials of this administration [should] personally brief senators on the declaration of martial law,' says Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon

MANILA, Philippines – Senators are calling for a separate briefing by Malacañang on President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

This was agreed upon during an all-senators caucus on Wednesday, May 24.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Eduardo Año should conduct the closed-door briefing.

“Responsible officials of this administration [should] personally brief senators on the declaration of martial law,” Drilon said on Wednesday.

Drilon, in a separate interview, also said the briefing would be “useful” for senators as they try to understand the basis of the President’s declaration. (READ: Duterte says martial law due to ISIS threat)

“I will request that the senators be given a separate briefing on what are the circumstances that led to the declaration. I think that would be useful so that we could fully understand the premises or the basis, because we get conflicting reports like, I heard the AFP spokesman that everything is under control. If it’s under control, why was martial law declared?” Drilon said.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said the minority bloc wants to raise its concerns over the proclamation.

Personally, she said she would ask why Duterte resorted to the “extreme” option of declaring martial law in the entire Mindanao when only one city is under attack.

“Itatanong ko ‘yung concerns na pinapahayag ko since kahapon, ‘yung proportionality of the response considering na isang terror group sa Marawi City, nagdeklara ng batas militar sa buong Mindanao,” Hontiveros said in an interview on ANC.

(I will ask about my concerns since yesterday, about the proportionality of the response, considering it is just one terror group in Marawi City yet the President declared martial law in the whole of Mindanao.)

Hontiveros cited the cases in 1995 and 2001, when the Abu Sayyaf Group took hold of parts of Mindanao during the Ramos and Estrada administrations, respectively.

“Then presidents Ramos and Estrada did not declare martial law but they allowed the Armed Forces to really execute military campaigns against the Abu Sayyaf and they were able to effectively address the situation without taking, what some political scientists call, the rare extreme measure of martial law,” she added.

The 1987 Constitution requires the President to submit a report within 48 hours of declaration to Congress, which has the power to either revoke or extend martial law through joint voting.

Malacañang transmitted Proclamation No. 216 to Congress late Wednesday night. But Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said this is still different from the “report” mandated to be submitted to Congress. The report should be with Congress latest by 10 pm on Thursday, May 25.

Senate leaders earlier said it is “unlikely” that Congress, filled with Duterte’s allies, would revoke the proclamation.

More questions

Hontiveros said they would also ask why martial law seems to be the “default” choice for the President, citing his past pronouncements. (READ: Martial law in Mindanao: Duterte’s warning fulfilled)

“Maitatanong din namin sa briefing bakit parang nagiging default function ni Presidente ‘yung martial law when there is a problem. (We will also ask during the briefing why martial law seems to be the default function of the President when there is a problem.) He declared it now in Mindanao, but often in the past many months he’s thought aloud about it in public,” she said.

Duterte earlier declared a state of lawlessness – which is still in effect – following the deadly Davao City bombing in September 2016.

Hontiveros said they want to know what would happen to the previous pronouncement and if it is part of a bigger puzzle.

“We will probably also ask, kasi binanggit ni Presidente sa Proclamation 216 ‘yung reference ng state of national lawlessness after the Davao market bombing. Ano, connected ba ito? Meron na ba pinag-iisipan since last year? Is this the next piece of the puzzle?” she said.

(We will probably also ask because the President, in Proclamation 216, referred to the state of national lawlessness he declared after the Davao market bombing. Is this connected? Have they been thinking about martial law since last year? Is this the next piece of the puzzle?)

Pimentel, who is in Davao City to meet with the Chief Executive, said he would try to schedule the briefing with security officials for Monday, May 29.

“Ire-raise ko sa kanila (security officials) ang immediate briefing. Tignan ko ang sched nila kung puwede na sila by Monday. Pero hindi pa ito final,” Pimentel said in a phone interview with reporters.

(I will raise the immediate briefing with security officials. I will check if their schedules are free by Monday. But that is not yet final.)

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives will also request for a briefing next Wednesday, May 31, where questions about Duterte’s report will be raised in a closed-door meeting.

Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on Tuesday, May 23, following the clashes in Marawi City, saying the declaration might last from over a month to a year. He also said it would be similar to military rule under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, which was marred by corruption and human rights violations.

The 1987 Constitution, however, says the imposition of martial law should not exceed 60 days, and that any extension has to be approved by Congress.

Duterte also said he might declare martial law in the entire country if the threat of the Islamic State (ISIS) persists.

Crafted after the EDSA People Power Revolution that ousted Marcos in 1986, the 1987 Constitution highlights the role of other branches of government in the martial law declaration. The provisions are meant precisely to prevent grave abuse and stop another Marcos from tinkering with civil rights.

Duterte is the 3rd Philippine president to declare martial law since 1972, after Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who declared it in Maguindanao in 2009 after the Maguindanao massacre. – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com