Beyond Marawi: Officials explain need for martial law extension until end of year

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 22) - The government needs martial law to flush terrorists out of Mindanao, defense and military officials said in defense of the President's request for an extension until the end of December 2017.

"We are asking for more time because we do not just want to finish Marawi, but the permanent threat in Mindanao brought by these terrorist groups," Armed Forces Chief and martial law implementor Eduardo Año told lawmakers in joint session on Saturday, the day that martial law was supposed to lapse in line with the 60-day limit under the Constitution.

 

A total of 261 lawmakers voted in favor and 18 not in favor of President Rodrigo Duterte's request for Mindanao to be placed under military rule until December 31, 2017.

Also read: Congress grants Duterte's request to extend martial law

Terrorists are holed up in the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Maguindanao and Central Mindanao region, Defense Secretary and martial law administrator Delfin Lorenzana said.

Aside from the ISIS-linked Maute group which laid siege in Marawi City in the capital of Lanao del Sur, government troops are also fighting the Abu Sayyaf group, Ansar-al Khalifah Philippines, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

"All of these groups ay nagpledge (allegiance) sa Daesh (ISIS) and there was an order for them also to do their own version of Marawi in other areas," Año said.

He added that authorities effectively thwarted these threats because of Proclamation 216, issued by President Rodrigo Duterte on May 23 declaring martial law in Mindanao and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

Exceutive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who read President Duterte's request for martial law extension before the lawmakers, said it was the first time the government faced a "newly evolving type of urban warfare."

"Ibang klase po (It's a different kind)… It's not an easy task to be running against these rebels," Medialdea said.

He presented to Congress First Lt. Kent Fagyan, his right arm banded after he was wounded from fighting in Marawi.

The 29-year-old lieutenant who also fought during the bloody Zamboanga siege in 2013 and the Maute group's siege of Butig town in Lanao del Sur in 2016, said the terrorists in Marawi were the hardest to defeat.

"Comparing po doon, mas mahirap po yung sa Marawi kasi buhos po talaga yung mga bahay, tapos halos puro third floor and fourth floor," Fagyan said, "Upgraded po yung dito sa Marawi kasi marami po silang .50 caliber, yung radio scanner, yung drones, tapos unlimited po yung bala nila."

[Translation: Compared with previous attacks, the one in Marawi is more difficult because houses are dense, and most of them have third and fourth floor. The enemy in Marawi is upgraded because they have many .50 caliber guns, radio scanner, drones, and unlimited supply of bullets.]

 

Duterte issued Proclamation No. 216, declaring martial law in Mindanao and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus on May 23 when the Maute group stormed Marawi City.

In his letter to Senate President Koko Pimentel and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez dated July 18, Duterte said government needs five more months to quell the rebellion in Mindanao.

On July 21, Duterte said the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police recommended the five-month extension because it is necessary to cover the rehabilitation period for war-torn Marawi and to prevent the possible retaliation of terrorist sympathizers.

Is it really needed?

Twenty one congressmen and seven senators quizzed officials from the military and the President's Cabinet on why martial law needs to stay.

Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, who led opposition congressmen in filing a petition against Duterte's martial law said the Armed Forces and the military do not need military rule to restrict the movement of terrorists.

"Don't you think aftermath of martial law could have been avoided if it wasn't implemented in the first place?" Lagman asked Año. He was against the use of government airstrikes which caused the loss of lives of soldiers and the destruction of houses in Marawi.

Año said it was not the troops who caused the destruction, but the terrorists.

He said the military would recommend the lifting of martial law if the situation in Mindanao becomes stable.

Other lawmakers argued there was no basis for declaring martial law to begin with, since under the Constitution, only an actual rebellion or invasion would merit such proclamation.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon said there is no evidence of rebellion in Mindanao.

"In the President's report, he mentioned a total of 10 provinces in Mindanao. There are 27 provinces in Mindanao. It is quite clear that there is no mention in the President's request for extension that rebellion exists in the other 17 provinces," Drilon said.

He also criticized the inclusion of drug syndicates on the Armed Forces' operational directive on the implementation of martial law.

Medialdea, however, said the recovery of drugs from the Maute group in Marawi City shows the rebels' links to terror groups.

CNN Philippines' Eimor P. Santos, Lara Tan, and Ver Marcelo contributed to this report.