By Bernadette E Tamayo Manila Times
Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito has backed the extension of martial law in Mindanao, saying the military should rid the region of loose firearms as well as private armies.
Ejercito was in Marawi City to assess the extent of the damage caused by the five-month battle against the Islamic State-inspired Maute terrorist group.
“I think this (martial law) would help to cleanse the entire Mindanao, Lanao (provinces) and Marawi of loose firearms so that we can create an atmosphere that would be conducive to investments and business,” Ejercito said.
“Based on my conversations with local officials, AFP and PNP officials, and even ordinary citizens, most of them favour martial law in Mindanao because they don’t want a repeat of the Marawi (siege),” he said in a radio interview.
Ejercito said Marawi residents told him that the presence of firearms in the area was “quite traumatic.”
“And because of martial law, authorities were able to limit the movement of armed groups and they were able to control the presence of loose firearms,” he said. “They said that at least now they are equals. Before, the warlords, some government officials, acted as bullies. It’s because they had private armies. But with martial law their private armies cannot operate.”
Malacanang on Saturday said it accepted the recommendation of the military on the possible extension of martial law in Mindanao, but President Rodrigo Duterte has yet to decide on the matter.
“You know, the declaration of martial law is always dependent on what the Armed Forces and the police recommends. They are the two entities that would be relied upon heavily by a president or head of states when we entertain something like extreme measures, martial law, state of emergency,” Duterte said on Saturday.
“Armed Forces and the police, since they are the ones also who would be totally engaged if there’s trouble there, we should give credence to it. I do not think they fabricate events,” he added.
In a radio interview, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the Palace respects the “wisdom” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). “They’re the ones who know what’s best especially when it comes to matters related to national security,” Andanar told state-run dzRB radio.
“So the decision of the Armed Forces or the recommendation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is actually accepted…but then again, it will be the president who will decide,” he added. AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr on Friday told reporters the military might request to extend martial law in Mindanao because of a lingering threat from terror groups.
“We’re working towards that (lifting of martial law in Mindanao). We’re hoping to be able to address and normalise everything by the end of the year because that was the deadline given to us. But be that as it may, the network of the local terrorist groups still continue and this is the subject of our efforts,” he said.
Martial law was declared in Mindanao on May 23, when fighting in Marawi, broke out.
Under the 1987 Constitution, the declaration was limited to 60 days. But on the request of President Rodrigo Duterte, Congress extended martial law until December 31.
A day after the deaths of Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute in October, Duterte declared Marawi liberated from the influence of terrorists, allowing the government to shift its focus to rehabilitating the city.
Some sectors have asked Duterte to lift martial law now that security forces have eliminated the terrorist leaders.
But the military said martial law was still needed to curb terrorist networks in other parts of Mindanao like Basilan and Sulu.
Padilla said the presence of armed groups in some parts of Mindanao, particularly the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, was one of the reasons the military was unable to recommend the early lifting of martial law despite the declaration of Marawi’s liberation last month.
“The main consideration is the network of the terrorists and the remaining threat from large groups which can launch a large-scale attack,” he said.
Two opposition lawmakers vowed to oppose efforts to extend martial law in Mindanao.
Akbayan party-list Rep. Tom Villarin said it was “becoming a habit that martial law is the only solution to terrorism.”
Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice said martial law should be the last option, as it would have “costly effects” on democratic institutions.
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