Congress grants third extension of Mindanao martial law until end of 2019

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 12) — Martial law will remain in Mindanao for another full year from January 1 to December 31, 2019 after Congress on Wednesday granted President Rodrigo Duterte's request.

In the final joint session vote, 235 senators and representatives were for it, 28 were against, and 1 abstained.

Senators Tito Sotto, Gringo Honasan, Ping Lacson, Migz Zubiri, Richard Gordon, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, Koko Pimentel, JV Ejercito, Sonny Angara, Win Gatchalian, and Manny Pacuqiao voted 'yes.' Senators Chiz Escudero, Franklin Drilon, Kiko Pangilinan, Bam Aquino, and Risa Hontiveros voted against, while Senator Ralph Recto was the lone abstention.

In the House of Representatives, 223 voted for the extension and 23 voted 'no.'

High-ranking administration officials also present during the joint session justified the longer military rule in the South.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said that while the government has achieved gains such as arresting over a hundred terrorists during the one year and seven months of martial law in Mindanao, it still needs extra time to quell efforts from terrorists and rebel groups to overthrow the administration.

"Rebellion in Mindanao still subsists. Notwithstanding the substantial gains achieved during the martial law period, we cannot turn a blind eye to the reality that Mindanao is still in the midst of rebellion," he said.

He added, "If we allow these terrorist groups and rebels to regroup, this government will not be able to function fully, basic services to people will continuously be hindered, and the safety of the general public will remain to be under constant threat," he told lawmakers at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City.

The executive secretary said the remnants of terror groups Abu Sayyaf, Daulah Islamiyah, and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters are still pursuing their goal of establishing a wilayah or Islamic state in Mindanao and ousting the Duterte administration.

"Despite their difference in ideologies, they share the same purpose of overthrowing our government... We are at the cusp of ending rebellion in Mindanao. We cannot falter or else we lose our hard-earned progress," he said.

Escudero said while the economy and crime rate improved in Mindanao during martial law, these gains cannot be attributed to military rule.

"Mindanao achieved economic growth. Mindanao achieved unprecedented maintenance of peace and order in the area. It can do so without martial law... This was achieved under the administration, not under martial law," he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte, in a letter dated December 6, called on Congress to enable the government to sustain gains in fighting rebels and terrorists by extending martial law in Mindanao until December 31, 2019. He cited a joint security assessment report of the police and military showing "significant progress in putting the rebellion under control."

Related: Duterte to Congress: Don't give rebels a chance to strengthen forces

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman noted that Duterte mentioned "recycled" reasons for his extension request.

Drilon said there is nothing in Duterte's letter that shows the grounds for extending martial rule.

"There is no actual armed uprising that is taking place in Mindanao to justify the extension of martial law. Martial law is the highest form of self preservation. It cannot be the norm. We can't make martial law an instrument to make governance more effective," he said.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Human Rights issued a statement saying lawlessness can be addressed without the enforcement of martial law.

"The said declaration is an extraordinary measure that the 1987 Constitution prescribes as reserved only to instances of actual invasion and rebellion. Martial law is never meant to be the status quo," they said.

The Cabinet and security officials said 143 arrests have been made in Mindanao from January 1, 2018 to December 12, 2018 in relation to the martial law extension, all charged with rebellion. The government continues to go after 2,435 local and communist terrorists. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said 180 suspected terrorists remain at large.

Lorenzana said terrorism can be a basis for martial law if it is tied to rebellion.

The Constitution allows the President to declare martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of the habeas corpus, allowing warrantless arrests, "in case of invasion or rebellion (or) when the public safety requires it" for a period of 60 days. Congress has allowed an extension of the military rule twice due to what it perceived as a continuing rebellion.

Some human rights groups said the military committed human rights violations during the implementation of martial law. Rep. Ariel Casilao said 155 cases have been filed with the Commission on Human Rights on various violations under military rule.

Malacañang assured the public that the rule of law will be observed under martial law.

"Rest assured that the fundamental rights and liberties of our citizens shall at all times be respected and that our uniformed services shall act strictly within the confines of their mandate," Presidential spokesperson Sal Panelo said in a statement on Wednesday.

Malacañang thanked lawmakers for granting the request to further improve the welfare of Mindanaoans.

"it is our shared responsibility to ensure the integrity of our nation, the security of our people and the sustained growth and development of Mindanao. We expect to achieve substantial progress in addressing the persisting rebellion in Mindanao, as well as promoting the overall security and peace and order situation in the island," Panelo said.

Duterte proclaimed martial law in Mindanao effective for 60 days on May 23, 2017 following escalating conflict with ISIS-inspired Maute group in Marawi, the provincial capital of Lanao del Sur. More than a thousand were killed, mostly terrorists. The President declared the liberation of Marawi City on October 17, 2017.

Martial law has been in place in Mindanao for a year and seven months, after Congress granted Duterte's request for an extension twice to quell threats of rebellion amid efforts to rehabilitate Marawi City.