Martial Law in Mindanao: With No Security Briefing, Why Extend?

Groups march to Mendiola in protest of the attacks on human rights on December 10, in commemoration of the International Human Rights Day. | Photo by Lito Ocampo.

FOR THE third time, martial law in Mindanao has been extended. A Joint Session of Congress on December 12 extended its effectivity until December 2019 with a total of 235 affirmative votes,  28 negative and one abstention.

In his letter to the 17th Congress, President Rodrigo Duterte said that security assessment by the military and police “highlight certain essential facts which indicate that rebellion still persists in Mindanao and that public safety requires the continuation of martial law in the whole of Mindanao.” He mentioned several armed groups such as the Abu Sayaff, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Daulah Ismaliyah. He also cited the communist insurgency. But several lawmakers argued that no actual rebellion nor other empirical data justified the extension.

Senator Franklin Drilon had proposed in 2017 that security officials report regularly on conditions and implementation of Martial Law. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana agreed this would be done. 

CMFR cheers MindaNews for reporting on the failure of the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to submit such reports.

Posted December 9, the article “Whatever happened to the martial law implementation reports to Congress?” quoted Lorenzana’s apology for this failure during the December 13, 2017 Joint Session of Congress: “I apologize for that mistake that we made. The AFP has been reporting to us weekly and even monthly reports but for some reason nothing has been submitted to Congress. We will rectify that.”

MindaNews said that Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin checked with the committees on Mindanao Affairs, National Defense and the Office of the Secretary-General. As of November 23 this year no report had been received by these offices.

According to the report, MindaNews did not get any response when it “asked Lorenzana and Gen. Carlito Galvez in a text message on November 23 how many reports have they filed in Congress, since December last year for Lorenzana and since April for Galvez when he became Chief of Staff.”

The report also examined the arrest orders issued by Lorenzana in 2017 against personalities for violation of Article 134 (Rebellion), pointing out that the orders listed some repetitive names and aliases and asked: “Exactly how many have been arrested out of the total 284 on the list?”

These observations should be followed up by the media. The decision to extend martial law for another year seems to have been made without any reference to its rationale.

If the security and law-enforcement agencies have not been able to quell rebellion or terrorist threats in the period of two years, shouldn’t Congress investigate the reasons for this failure before deciding its extension?

The submission of the security report would have helped Congress to understand the issues involved. The public would also be better able to appreciate the basis for the Congressional approval of the extension.

Recently, President Duterte’s Memorandum Order 32 ordered the DND and local government units to coordinate the immediate deployment of military and police forces in some provinces and regions to stop“lawless violence.” He also formed a national task force to “combat communism.” Critics fear that these are preludes to the nation-wide declaration of martial law.

Media should follow MindaNews’ lead and go beyond claims and continuously monitor the continuation of martial law in Mindanao and the deployment of more troops in various regions.