Senators raise legal issues on one-year martial law extension

MANILA, Philippines – Some senators raised legal concerns on the proposed extension of martial law in Mindanao, citing the end of the 17th Congress by June 2019. (DOCUMENT: Duterte asks Congress for another 1-year martial law extension in Mindanao)

Senators and security officials, including Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Carlito Galvez Jr, and Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, met on Monday, December 10, for a briefing on President Rodrigo Duterte's extension request. Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles was also present.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said a one-year extension until December 31, 2019, could pose a problem.

After all, he said half of current senators would no longer be in office by June 30, 2019.

“What is appealing... ang sabi nila (they said) in one year they can wipe out the Aby Sayyaf and reduce the capability of the NPA [New People's Army], so that seems to be appealing. The question is, as far as I am concerned, among others, can we extend martial law beyond our term? 'Di ba this Congress' term is until June 30, so 6 months if at all, and then maybe the next Congress can approve the next extension for the next 6 months,” Recto told reporters after the briefing.

"Pinag-iisipan ngayon yung 6 months (The 6-month extension is now being discussed), and of course we are hearing one side of the argument. The other side of the argument, which is not totally clear to me yet, is any of these powers have been abused," Recto added.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, party mate of Duterte in PDP-Laban, said he is in favor of a one-year extension. "Six or twelve months is now the issue. But if we extend, then maybe we should extend for the requested period," Pimentel said in a message.

To settle the issue, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he has already asked the Office of the Executive Secretary for a legal opinion on the matter.

Congress is set to hold a joint session on Wednesday, December 12, at 9 am to vote on Duterte's request. 

Continuing rebellion

Asked for comment, Año said the military makes is planning for a year-long extension, not just 6 months.

"When we do campaign plans, it's good for one year, not for 6 months. What the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police need is one year so that when we do the plan, implement the plan, dapat continuous yan (it should be continuous)," Año said.

In the briefing, security officials told senators that the main intention of the extension is to "wipe out" communist and terrorist groups. The officials' discussions echoed the contents of President Duterte's letter to Congress.

Kasama yun sa plano ng (It is part of the plan of the) AFP at PNP if given the extension of martial law, once and for all, we will wipe out the Abu Sayyaf and also the CPP-NPA. Of course this is a holistic approach, we need the support of everybody including the local government,” Año told reporters after the meeting.

“I think we have to, the Armed Forces and the PNP will sit down, they will craft a new campaign plan, they will make adjustment of previous campaign plan and this time not only the Abu Sayyaf, CPP-NPA, but including the private armed groups,” he added.

Nograles said there is a need to sustain the momentum in Mindanao and the extension is needed because “public safety requires it.”

“Rebellion still persists in Mindanao and public safety requires it… We need to sustain the momentum and the accomplishment that have already been done, the headway we've already done in Mindanao, to sustain it and to really eradicate rebellion that is persisting in Mindanao,” Nograles said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he is not convinced of the reasons.

“Under our Constitution, there must be rebellion, insurrection, and public safety requirements, rebellion is defined by law as an actual uprising design to remove the allegiance from the government. What I am saying is that I am not convinced and there has been no showing that there is actual armed uprising,” Drilon said.

Sotto, however, agrees with Duterte: “I think there is actual rebellion happening.”

“There are more gains, pero mabigat pa rin, at kailangan tigilin na. In other words kailangan talagang mapigil na yung rebellion. Ang target nitong extension, I think, is to once and for all remove the issue of rebellion (There are more gains but there's still a lot to be done, it has to be stopped. In other words, rebellion must be eradicated. The target of this extension is to once and for all remove the issue of rebellion),” Sotto said. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, 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

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