PH reiterates ISIS threat in Supreme Court oral arguments

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippine government reiterated on Tuesday, January 29, that Islamic State (ISIS) poses a significant threat to the country, and that the terror group is establishing a center in Mindanao.

“There’s really a plan of the IS to establish their control in Southeast Asia, with the Philippines as its epicenter,” Solicitor General Jose Calida told the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday during the oral arguments on the 3rd extension of martial law in Mindanao.

The statement came during the interpellation by the newest SC justice, Rosmari Carandang, who asked Calida to validate reports that ISIS wants to establish a center in Mindanao.

“Some of the reasons why Mindanao was chosen to be the epicenter of ISIS is because about 23 factions – I’m referring to Moros – pledged allegiance to ISIS. Probably, also the geography of Mindanao – there are many [entry points], they can easily penetrate Mindanao through Sabah, Indonesia, etc,” Calida said.

Calida added the ISIS claim that it is responsible for the twin bombings in Jolo, Sulu, that killed 21 people last Sunday. The military, however, is not conclusively saying that ISIS was behind the attacks.

On Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte announced that a wife-and-husband team of suicide bombers was behind the attacks. It's the first government confirmation that the Sunday attack was the work of suicide bombers, as announced by the Islamic State (ISIS).

Martial law 

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año also appeared before the SC on Tuesday, telling Justice Carandang that several groups already pledged to ISIS as early as June 2016.

“This fight is not just about reducing them or eliminating them by military means. There is a total government approach to eliminate them, and fighting them in Mindanao requires this martial law so we can be able tor restrict the movement of armed groups from going from one place to another,” Año said.

Tuesday’s oral arguments were extraordinary in the sense that it was the defense team – the government – that presented first. Petitioners were only very briefly interpellated, after which Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin announced that they were adjourning the arguments and canceling Wednesday’s session.

In a way, it shifted the burden of proof on the defense.

“That’s new and I think it’s occasioned by the nature of the case. The Constitution requires that there must be factual basis for the extension of martial law, so that must come from the government,” said Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) chairman Chel Diokno, a senatorial candidate and the lead lawyer for the Lumad group of petitioners.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, a consistent dissenter in decisions to declare and extend martial law cases, kept his interpellation unusually brief. He asked whether there exists an actual state of rebellion in Marawi City or Davao City.

Military deputy chief of staff for intelligence Major General Pablo Lorenzo said there’s no rebellion in Marawi. Calida was not confident of his answer for Davao City, which prompted Carpio to say: “You are defending martial law in all of Mindanao, but you're not sure whether there is Maute rebellion in Davao City?” 

Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin said all memoranda to the Court should be submitted on or before February 4. These should be "lucid and strong," considering that the Court has "very little time" to decide on a "very important matter," he stressed.

This is the 4th time that the Supreme Court will have to decide on the constitutionality of martial law in Mindanao. – Rappler.com

READ other stories from the oral arguments:

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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