The Palace on Saturday insisted on the need to continuously impose martial law in Mindanao despite its assurance that the resistance coming from extremist groups was already “dwindling.”
During the regular “Mindanao Hour” over state radio dzRB, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that the government likewise stressed the need to benchmark first public safety amid the proposal of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to extend martial law until the end of the President’s term.
“As far as the Palace is concerned, the Executive branch wishes for all of this to end as soon as possible. However, our bottomline [consideration in implementing] martial law is public safety. Public safety as mandated by the Constitution,” Abella said.
“Speaker Alvarez has voiced his opinion regarding the matter and we respect that. However, the provision of the Palace will be benchmarked upon the agreement on whether or not public safety is already sufficiently guaranteed,” he added.
On Thursday, Alvarez said that House leaders were open to extending the 60-day martial law period in Mindanao following the continued terrorist attacks of the Maute group.
But on Friday, the Davao del Norte representative and secretary-general of President Rodrigo Duterte’s PDP-Laban said he was open to the idea of extending martial law in Mindanao until Duterte steps down in 2022, citing that it has been well-received by majority of the more than 20 million people in the Philippine south and that critics, particularly those who were not from Mindanao, had no reason to oppose or worry about it.
Alvarez’s proposal drew support in the House, with at least five House leaders also voicing their agreement to extend martial law in the country’s southernmost island.
Reps. Rodolfo Albano of Isabela, Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte, Gus Tambunting of Parañaque City, Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar and Harry Roque of Kabayan party-list said Alvarez and President Duterte would know better the situation in the South being Mindanaoans.
“If the conditions warrant the prolonging of ML to save lives, who are we to [oppose],” Albano, majority leader for the House of Representatives’ contingent to Commission on Appointments, said.
Albano said the President and his military and police personnel knows fully well the situation in Mindanao, especially in Marawi and so only them could tell the real score.
Barbers, chairman of the House committee on dangerous drugs, echoed Albano’s expression of support to Alvarez.
“Yes, I will support any extension as long as there is still imminent threat of terrorism, rebellion and invasion perpetrated by ISIS, Maute and Abu Sayaf groups.''
Evardone also said he is for the martial law extension “if the situation so warrants.”
Tambunting, House committee on ways and means chairperson, shares a similar view.
“If it remains necessary and the situation is still not under control, I will not object to an extension [of the 60-day martial law period] in Mindnao,” Tambunting said.
Roque, for his part, said that Congress will support the President for peace’s sake in the war-torn region.
“That is for President to declare. If he does, Congress will support him,” Roque said.
But Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said it is too early to discuss the martial law extension.
“We will assess the situation by then but it is still a month away,” he said.
The President declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23. It will lapse on July 23.
Alvarez, secretary-general of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan, said the House may approve the martial law extension “if necessary” as the Armed Forces of the Philippines has yet to gain full control of the situation in Marawi City.
But more than three weeks since Duterte imposed martial rule in the whole island of Mindanao, Abella flaunted that “enemy resistance continues to dwindle and enemy-held areas continues to grow smaller as the troops advance” in Marawi city and proceed with clearing operations.
Abella, however, insisted that there are still “compounding developments” that necessitates the need to implement military rule, including the use of civilians as human shields and mosques being used as staging areas and safe havens.
“Therefore, the schedule for the lifting of martial law is whether or not it is already totally, completely guaranteed or sufficiently guaranteed for the safety of the general public or not,” Abella said.
“We should not give it a timeline. Our indicator is whether public is already safe [from these threats],” he added.