AFP cites 'psychological impact' for martial law extension; opposition senator disagrees

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 12) — Top security and defense officials on Tuesday briefed senators on their justification for extending martial law in Mindanao until the end of 2018.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) said they recommended the extension of martial law due to its "psychological impact" on law enforcement in Mindanao.

Most residents in Mindanao approved of it, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said in an interview with media.

"By 'psychological' we mean it's really to the liking of the majority of Mindanaoans. So theres not much objection to it especially the Mindanao people," said Esperon.

Military rule in Mindanao during the months of the fighting between government forces and the ISIS-inspired Maute group had a huge effect in their operations, he added. In October, after five months of fighting, the government declared the liberation of Marawi City from the Maute.

"Anything that we can get out of the kind of martial law that we have, we can fully use as we have done sa Marawi. Malaki ang nagiging epekto," Esperon said.

However, Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said such reasoning is not a valid basis for the extension of martial law in Mindanao.

"The Armed Forces has recommended the extension of martial law for its psychological impact. I'm afraid that is not a valid basis for the extension of martial law," he said in a media interview.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday  cited the violence caused by the communist New People's Army (NPA) as one of the reasons for the martial law extension.

Drilon said the NPA was not a factor during the first time Duterte asked Congress for a martial law declaration.

"The president cited five reasons asking for an extension... The citation of the fifth reason which is the NPA threat, constitutes one whole page. The issue was raised, why if it's an extension of an original six-month period or martial law, the NPA was not a factor then?" he said.

Esperon denied that the inclusion of the NPA in the recommendation to extend martial law was sudden.

"It has always been there. But in the first declaration, we were in the peace process, but we have always been talking about it," he said.

He added now is the perfect time to quell terrorist groups such as the Mautes, Abu Sayyaf, and the NPA.

"Kailangan natin (ng martial law) because time is of the esscence. Ngayon na mahina ang ISIS, i-apply na natin lahat kaysa maghintay na naman na lumakas sila," Esperon said.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Esperon, AFP Chief of Staff Rey Guerrero, and Interior Undersecretary Eduardo Año briefed Senate President Koko Pimentel, Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto, Senators Ping Lacson, Win Gatchalian, Grace Poe, and opposition Senators Bam Aquino, Risa Hontiveros, Sonny Trillanes, and Drilon.

After a briefing of more than two hours, Esperon was confident they were able to convince senators to extend martial law in Mindanao for another year.

"Ganun din naman ang mga senador eh, gusto nila magkaroon ng peace and development sa Mindanao," he said.

The officials also briefed House of Representative lawmakers this afternoon.

Congress is set to hold a joint session on Wednesday to decide on Duterte's request to extend martial law in Mindanao for a year, according to House Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas. He said members of both the majority and minority blocs in the lower chamber will meet in a caucus on Tuesday to discuss the matter.

'Foregone conclusion'

Drilon said he expects the Congress will grant President Rodrigo Duterte's request to extend martial law in Mindanao until the end of 2018.

"I think the authorization of Congress to extend martial law is a foregone conclusion. Congress is a political body. The President has super majority in both Houses," Drilon said.

If Congress grants one more year of martial law in the southern Philippines, they will elevate their objections before the Supreme Court, Drilon said.

"We go through the motions. The SC will decide if there is factual basis. We want to put on record our objection, raising constitutional issue," he said.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Tuesday said the Palace looks forward to Congress' support on Duterte's request for extension of martial law.

In a letter dated December 8, Duterte asked Congress to approve the extension of martial law on the island until December 31, 2018.  He said this was necessary to quell the "intensified" rebellion of the New People's Army, and attacks by foreign and local terrorist groups.

This is the second time the President has asked for an extension. Congress granted the first request on July 22 - when the 60-day period for martial law was supposed to expire - effectively stretching military rule in Mindanao until December 31 this year.

Duterte declared martial law on May 23 when the ISIS-inspired Maute terror group attacked Marawi City where it waged a war against government troops for almost five months.

CNN Philippines Senior Correspondent Cecille Lardizabal contributed to this report.