Senators divided on proposed martial law extension up to December

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 18) — Senators had mixed reactions to President Rodrigo Duterte's request to extend martial law in Mindanao and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus for more than five months or until December 31, 2017.

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella announced on Tuesday that the President had sent a seven-page letter to Congress seeking an extension because the rebellion in Mindanao could not be quelled by July 22, 2017. The martial law proclamation, limited for 60 days as stipulated in the Constitution expires on July 22, 2017.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Tito Sotto provided a different time frame on the martial law extension based on the lawmakers' meeting with the President Monday night.

"There are other issues that are cropping up in Zamboanga, in Jolo, and more or less of the same ... problem as Marawi. So to preempt such and to finally end the incident... the problem in Marawi, he is asking for a 60-day extension," Sotto told CNN Philippines early Tuesday morning, prior to Abella's announcement.

Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, who was also in a dinner with Duterte and lawmakers on Monday, mentioned the same time frame.

"We agreed to extend martial law, he'll be calling for a special session this Saturday, so we're all going to be in the Batasan for the joint session of the Congress, and he asked for 60 more days. Sixty more days to clean up, clear up, and start the rehabilitation of Marawi. And we're supportive. Very supportive," Zubiri said.

But in his letter to Congress written after the dinner, Duterte said he would need until December 31, 2017 to address the rebellion in Mindanao.

While Senate President Koko Pimentel is confident the Congress supermajority will grant the extension and coverage of martial law, he said the special joint session on Saturday may be delayed by discussions on the length of the extension.

"Sa extension, kumpiyansa ako doon. Siguro may konting debate tayo sa period. Para klaro, ang extension will be over the same area, all over Mindanao," he told CNN Philippines on Tuesday.

[Translation: In the extension, I'm confident. Probably we'll have debates on the period. Just to be clear, the extension will cover the same area, all over Mindanao.]

Senate Majority Floor Leader Tito Sotto said a 60-day extension request has a better chance of approval in Congress.

"The President said 60 days. Madali mag extend. Mahihirapan kami sa explanation nyan pag longer," Sotto said in a text message.

[Translation: The President said 60 days. It's easy to extend, but we will have a hard time explaining if the period were longer.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ping Lacson said the constitution did not specify limits to the period of extension.

"Since there is no limit specified as to the period of extension, Congress can extend the same for a period of one day "till kingdom come" or until the end of the world, or not extend at all," Lacson said.

The 1987 Constitution states Congress, in a joint session, may decide to extend the declaration of martial law, or revoke it.

The program and other rules, including determining the quorum, will be discussed before the special joint session on July 22, according House Secretary General Cesar Pareja in an interview on CNN Philippines' News Night.

Opposition senators Risa Hontiveros and Antonio Trillanes, who were against the initial implementation of martial law in Mindanao, did not approve of the extension.

Hontiveros said the joint Congress session needed ample time.

"Ang paghingi po ng extension ay hindi parang pag order lang sa Jollibee. Ang kongreso po ay hindi isang fastfood reataurant. Kailangan po bigyan ng sapat, mahaba, malalim, matalas na diskusyon sa mga isyung ito lalo na sa longer term implication ng extension," she said.

[Translation: Asking for martial law extension is not the same as ordering in Jollibee. Congress is not a fastfood restaurant. We need ample, longer, more extensive discussions on these issues and the longer term implication of extension.]

Trillanes, on the other hand, said any timeframe extension is unjustified.

"The AFP itself said the Mautes are down to 60. So, in other words, the people of Mindanao would be inconvenienced by Martial Law just to neutralize the 60 Mautes who are cornered in Marawi! That's just a whimsical misuse of power," Trillanes claimed.

Sen. Win Gatchalian declined comment, saying he would wait to hear on Wednesday from top security officials on the Marawi situation.

The Senate filed a resolution on May 30 supporting the declaration of martial law in Mindanao. It has dismissed calls for a joint congressional session with the Lower House. The Supreme Court on July 4, upheld the validity of Proclamation 216.

The military is set to brief the Senate on the latest developments in Mindanao by Wednesday.