Escudero to Duterte officials: Give yourselves, not martial law, credit for better Mindanao

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(From L-R) Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and President Rodrigo Duterte in Marawi City. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 12) — Give credit to whom credit is due.

This was the message of Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero to officials of the Duterte administration, stressing that improvements in Mindanao's economy and peace and order can be achieved even without martial law in the south.

"Nakamit niyo ito at makakamit niyo ang lahat ng mga nakamit niyo sa Mindanao meron man o walang martial law (You achieved this and you will achieve more with or without martial law). Give credit to where credit is due. Give it to yourselves and not merely to martial law," Escudero said Wednesday during Congress' joint session on the extension of military rule in Mindanao.

He added that although government statistics show a better Mindanao, this could be attributed to the allocation of more resources to the region and the police and military's commitment to peace and order – which should be done even if martial law is not imposed.

Escudero was among only 28 lawmakers who voted against President Rodrigo Duterte's request for a third martial law extension – until December 31, 2019. They lost to an overwhelming vote of 235 senators and representatives in a joint session.

READ: Congress grants third extension of Mindanao martial law until end of 2019

Duterte in his request mentioned that the past two years under martial law showed "significant progress in putting the rebellion under control," including the "neutralization" of almost 2,000 communist rebels and terrorists, and a reduction in the attacks lawless groups made.

"All of these gains in security and peace and order have resulted in remarkable economic gains Mindanao," he said in his five-page letter to Congress. He said another year of martial law is needed "to finally put an end to the ongoing rebellion in Mindanao and continue to prevent the same from escalating in other parts of the country."

READ: Duterte to Congress: Don't give rebels a chance to strengthen forces

Administration officials backed the request up with some statistics during Wednesday's session.

What gains?

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said regional growth domestic product (GDP) was up to 7.2 percent in 2017, from 6.3 percent in 2016. Duterte first declared martial law in Mindanao in May 2017 as terrorists attacked Marawi City, capital of Lanao del Sur, some 1,400 kilometers south of Manila.

Lopez said more Mindanaoans landed jobs this year, as unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent in October from 5.4 percent in January 2017.

He said the businessmen "feel safer," adding that the only downside they see is the traffic caused by police and military checkpoints.

Philippine National Police Chief Oscar Albayalde, meanwhile, reported that the number of crimes in Mindanao decreased by almost 29,000 incidents this year.

Meanwhile, Lanao del Norte Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo said Mindanao is becoming a "gun-free society" as he expressed support for martial law.

Another lawmaker form Mindanao, Lanao del Sur Rep. Ansaruddin Adiong said military rule is necessary for the recovery and rehabilitation of Marawi.

No basis for martial law extension

The problem, Escudero said, is that economic improvement, maintenance of peace and order, and even public satisfaction are not grounds for placing any part of the country under military rule.

The Constitution allows the President to declare martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of the habeas corpus, allowing warrantless arrests, "in case of invasion or rebellion (or) when the public safety requires it" for a period of 60 days. Congress has allowed an extension of the military rule thrice as administration officials cite continuing rebellion, particularly that of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing New People's Army, which the government seeks to tag as terrorists.

"Kung ang basehan ay New People's Army, limampung taon na po ang rebelyong yan. Kung yan po ang magiging basehan edi tatagal pa po yan ng kahit hanggang sampung taon," Escudero said.

[Translation: "If the basis would be the New People's Army, that rebellion has spanned 50 years. If that would be the basis then that will last for up to 10 more years."]

He stressed that martial law "cannot be the new normal for Mindanao."

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon likewise said there is no legal basis for further extending martial law in Mindanao.

"There is no actual armed uprising that is taking place in Mindanao to justify the extension of martial law," Drilon said. "Martial law is the highest form of self-preservation. It cannot be the normal norm."