SolGen: Petitioners should not fear martial law extension in Mindanao

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Solicitor General Jose Calida. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 17) — Solicitor General Jose Calida on Tuesday said there is no need to be afraid of the one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao because the Constitution continues to operate.

"All of the petitioners are haunted by the ghost of martial law past. There is no reason for them to feel that way," he told Supreme Court justices during the second day of oral arguments on the extension.

Calida stressed that the petitioners against martial law cannot dispute the security assessment of  the Armed Forces of the Philippines and confirmed by the Philippine National Police explaining the continuing rebellion in Mindanao.

"Even as the petitioners have joined cause to dispute the actions of President (Rodrigo) Duterte and Congress, their reasons for disputing the sufficiency of factual basis of the extension appear to be a function of their demographic," Calida said.

According to Calida, there already have been 43 acts of terrorism since the beginning of the year which affected eight civilians. Three of them were beheaded.

"The petitioners bear the burden of proof that the rebellion has been quelled," he said.

Four petitions against the martial law extension to December 31 2018 were consolidated by the high court: one group of congressmen led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman; another group led by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao; former Commission on Human Rights chair Etta Rosales; and a group led by Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the Constitution.

Lagman argued on the first day of the oral arguments that there was insufficient factual basis for Congress to approve the extension.

Calida had earlier asked the high court to junk the petitions.

AFP's 'belated' presentation

The AFP, through Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence Maj. Gen. Fernando Trinidad, presented data on the existing terrorist and communist forces in Mindanao — including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the ISIS, the Abu Sayyaf Group, and the New People's Army.

"We are objecting to this belated presentation. This should have been done before the joint session of Congress, before the session was approved," Rep. Lagman said.

The Solicitor General then claimed Lagman would benefit from this as this was shown during the joint session. Lagman said there was no such presentation.

The end of rebellion?

During the oral arguments, Associate Justice Andres Reyes asked Lagman to justifiy the argument that there's no more rebellion in Mindanao so there's no need to extend martial law.

"When does a rebellion end? Does it end when a siege is finished?" Reyes asked.

Lagman said it would be dependent on the statements of government authorities.

"No less than the President said that Marawi is now liberated," Lagman said.

Martial law was declared in Mindanao on May 23 last year when ISIS-inspired Maute fighters took over Marawi City for five months. President Rodrigo Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi on October 7.  Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced the end of all combat operations in the city 16 days later.

Martial law was previously extended to December 2017 after the 60-day period provided by the Constitution lapsed.  On the president's request, Congress extended it again for a whole year.