By IAN IRVING BAZARTE
MANILA – In a special session held today at Batasan Pambansang Complex, Quezon City, the Congress of the Philippines – which includes the House of Representatives and the Senate – approved a five-month extension of President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao.
Sixteen senators voted yes for the extension of martial law, while four voted against it; 255 members of the House of Representatives, meanwhile, voted in the affirmative, with 14 voting in the negative.
In total, 261 lawmakers voted in favor of the extension, with 18 voting not in favor. Duterte needed only 158 votes as an affirmation.
In the Senate, Liberal Party Senators Bam Aquino, Risa Hontiveros, Kiko Pangilinan, and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon voted no against the extension of martial law. Most were explicitly in support of martial law, but only want a short-term extension. Absent at the voting were Senators Antonio Trillanes III, Nancy Binay and Leila De Lima. The latter remains detained in Camp Crame, Quezon City over allegations that she is involved in the drug trade.
The representatives who voted against the extension were mostly from the Makabayan bloc, namely, Arlene Brosas, Emmi De Jesus, Ariel Casilao, France Castro, Antonio Tinio, Sarah Jane Elago, and Carlos Zarate, who stressed the human rights violations already committed during martial law. The others were Liberal Party members or allies, Edcel Lagman, Tom Villarin, Teddy Baguilat, Gary Alejano, Lito Atienza, J.C. Belmonte, and Gabriel Bordado.
Outside the gates of Congress, sectoral groups picketed and called for an end to the martial law.
Cabinet, military defends martial law extension
In his interpolation of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Senator Franklin Drilon noted that the 1987 Philippine Constitution itself gives the president the power to declare martial law only in the case of actual rebellion.
“The question Mr. President is, if we have neutralized 379 Maute in less than two months, why do we need six more months?” he asked.
Medialdea insisted that the Marawi conflict is different from previous military operations because it involves urban warfare, one that the AFP is not trained for.
To prove this point, Senator Richard Gordon presented 1st Lieutenant Kent Fagyan, who fought in the Marawi conflict and was wounded in the right arm.
Fagyan, 29, who also participated in the September 2013 Zamboanga siege, said the battles being conducted to regain full control of Marawi City was much harder than anything he had previously experienced because the Mautes seemed to have complete knowledge of the cityscape, were proficient in using improvised explosive devices (IED), and seemed to have unlimited supplies.
AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano said that an extension of martial law in Mindanao was needed because they want to end the “permanent threats in Mindanao.”
Albay City Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the lawmakers who filed a petition before the Supreme Court arguing the validity of martial law in Mindanao, reiterated his earlier position that there is no factual basis to the declaration.
“What the subalterns of the president has shown to us is some sort of a basis, but the Constitution calls for sufficiency of factual basis,” he said.
AFP recommended ML extension to December 2017
Año also admitted that it was the military who recommended that martial law be extended up to the end of December of this year.
“We recommended, sir, up to December 31, 2017 because as I said, we wanted to finish all these Daesh-inspired groups in Mindanao so that there will be no repeat of the Marawi siege in the future,” he said.
Lagman then asked whether this recommendation was based on the discretion of the president or on the recommendation of the military.
Año answered, “No, your honor. I specifically recommended that, your honor,” he said.
Maranao woman speaks about abuses of civilians by soldiers
Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, a former member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commisision who was invited to the session to speak of her experiences during the Mindanao martial law, said that several human rights abuses happened in Mindanao.
She recounted the case of Abdul Halim, 20, who was reportedly “psychologically tortured” by government forces hell-bent on finding Maute Group members.
“On the second week of the crisis, Abdul Halim, a special child or a mental retard, 20 years old, was brought to Lanao rescue team by the mother. The mother claims hinulugan po ng mainit na tubig ang kanyang kamay after being found in Saduk area of Marawi… We have photos, Senator Poe, your honors, on these,” Gutoc said.
Gutoc also said a Maranao and 26 other men told her that government forces tortured them, blindfolded them, and were then told to dig their own graves.
Gutoc then described the plight of women in Marawi, saying that some women had to leave their houses without enough clothing, and one woman who was made to bare herself in the evacuation center. Muslim women have to cover their head and bodies in accordance with Islamic law.
“I am from Marawi City, please ask us, how do we feel?” she emotionally said.
Año and Lorenzana, however, denied reports of abuses perpetrated by military personnel in the entirety of Mindanao.
“Despite the casualties, we never once thought of perpetrating human rights violations,” Año claimed.
Let’s remove from our minds the thinking that martial law will lead to human rights violations. Most of these are speculation,” he added.
Año promised that the AFP will investigate all reports of human rights violations that will be submitted to them. “I, myself, will ensure those who will violate human rights will be punished,” he said.