Congress grants Duterte request to extend Mindanao martial law until end of 2018

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 13) — Martial law will remain in effect in Mindanao until December 31, 2018.

A joint session of Congress on Wednesday approved President Rodrigo Duterte's request to uphold military rule in the South for a year.

Voting 240-27, lawmakers said there was sufficient reason to extend martial law. The session was held at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City.

Fourteen senators voted for the extension. Four were against, namely, Franklin Drilon, Kiko Pangilinan, Bam Aquino, and Risa Hontiveros.

A total of 226 congressmen voted for the extension, while 23 were against it.

A majority vote of the two chambers voting jointly, or at least 158 of the 314 members of Congress,was needed to pass the motion.

Martial law in Mindanao was supposed to end on December 31, 2017. This was based on the first extension requested by the President when the initial declaration lapsed on July 23. Congress then extended it to July 22 to December 31. Martial rule was implemented in response to the terrorist attack in Marawi City. The siege lasted for five months.

On December 10, Duterte submitted a letter of request for another extension. He said martial law is needed to respond to attacks by local and foreign terrorist groups, as well as the "intensified" rebellion of the New People's Army (NPA), the armed wing of the communist organization which has waged a 48-year-old insurgency.

READ: Duterte cites attacks of NPA, other terror groups in request to extend martial law in Mindanao

Palace: Military rule to quell 'continuing rebellion'

Malacañang now asked for public support after Congress's decision.

"Public safety is our primordial concern; thus, we ask the public to stand behind the administration and rally behind our defenders to quell the continuing rebellion in Mindanao," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement shortly after Congress' vote Wednesday afternoon.

Roque said government forces will continue to work towards eradicating terrorist groups and lawless elements in Mindanao, including their "coddlers, supporters and financiers."

Military rule would also ensure the "unhampered rehabilitation" of war-torn Marawi City, Roque said.

Actual rebellion vs. threat

But the war in Marawi – which was the reason for initially declaring martial law – is over, opposing lawmakers argued on Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who has constantly rallied against martial law in Mindanao, said another extension would be unconstitutional, now that there is no "actual rebellion or public uprising" anywhere in the country.

"There are only threats at this point," said Drilon, the first of over 20 lawmakers who questioned Cabinet and security officials.

Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra defended Duterte's request, saying it was "not based on an assessment of an existing threat, but on the basis of a continuing actual rebellion."

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana explained that despite the defeat of the Maute group in Marawi, rebellion in other areas of Mindanao has not stopped.

"The other ISIS-inspired groups in Mindanao are also active like the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) in Central Mindanao and also in some other parts of the BaSulTa (Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi) islands," Lorenzana said. "The reports now is that they are actively recruiting again."

Task Force Bangon Marawi chairman Eduardo del Rosario earlier revealed intelligence reports that the remaining members of the Maute group are conducting "massive recruitment," offering as high as P100, 000 to each recruit.

Still, minority lawmakers said martial law should be a last resort.

Pangilinan called it an "extreme measure," while Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice said it should always be "a last option."

"It might become a habit na pag may konting gulo, hihingi na ng (when there's little conflict, executive will ask) martial law," Erice said.

The Mindanao vote

Majority of lawmakers from Mindanao expressed support for Duterte's martial law.

Rep. Ansaruddin Adiong of Lanao del Sur's first district where Marawi City is located, said military rule is needed to secure rehabilitation efforts in Marawi.

Lanao del Norte Second District Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo stressed how his constituents prefer the presence of troops in their area.

"When we hear martial law, we feel safe, we feel secure," Dimaporo said.

For another Mindanaoan lawmaker, however, martial law is not what the region needs.

"We do not need martial law in Mindanao. We need better military intelligence. We need quicker military response. We need active citizenship in our communities," Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-ao said.

Nationwide martial law?

Another solon, Rep. Shernee Tan of the Kusug-Tausug party-list, even reiterated her stand that the entire country should be placed under martial law.

"There are also NPA in Luzon and Visayas. If martial law is good for Mindanao, is it also good for Luzon and Visayas?" Tan said.

But Lorenzana said the NPA rebels are mainly "creating havoc" in Mindanao, where 45 percent of them are based.

When asked by Drilon if the extension of martial law would be a "prelude to a martial law nationwide," Lorenzana said he does not see such possibility under present circumstances.

CNN Philippines' Pia Garcia contributed to this report.