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Palace told to decide soon on martial law extension

ALMOST REAL Members of leftist groups act out during a rally near Malacañang in October what they said were scenes of suffering under martial law in Mindanao. —MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

Malacañang should reach a decision whether to ask for an extension of martial law in Mindanao before legislators go on vacation, according to a Senate leader.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said lawmakers would have to prepare for a special session before the year ended to accommodate the extension of martial law, which expires on Dec. 31.

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Congress is set to adjourn session on Dec. 14 and resume on Jan. 14.

Zubiri said Congress could reconvene for a special session before Dec. 31 if the President asks it to.

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Schedule adjustment

“The Palace should decide if there would be an extension so that senators and congressmen could prepare their schedules,” Zubiri said at the Kapihan sa Senado forum with reporters.

“Many congressmen and senators would go on vacation for the holidays,” Zubiri said.

Legislators, however, could adjust their schedules if given advanced notice on whether President Duterte would call for a joint session to extend martial law, Zubiri said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III was also unaware if there would be a need for a special session and would seek advice from Malacañang, Zubiri added.

He said he would also suggest to Malacañang and security officials to hold a briefing for senators on the security situation in Mindanao and if there was a need to extend martial law when their agencies’ budgets come up for deliberations in the Senate plenary session.

Military officials earlier said they were in favor of recommending an extension of martial law as a result of favorable feedback from local officials and based on assessment made by the military.

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3rd extension

If martial law was extended anew, it would be the third time the Duterte administration would impose military rule in Mindanao.

Mr. Duterte first placed Mindanao under martial law for 60 days on May 23 last year after Islamic State (IS) followers laid siege to Marawi City.

After the period lapsed, it was extended until the end of 2017.

Benefits

But before 2017 ended, the President once again sought, and was granted, another martial law extension over Mindanao lasting until Dec. 31, 2018.

Mr. Duterte cited continued threat of terrorism and rebellion when he made the request.

According to the head of the military, martial law had led to the recovery of at least 5,500 unlicensed guns.

Armed Forces Chief Carlito Galvez Jr. said the guns were either seized or surrendered by their owners.

Galvez, during briefing with reporters in Davao City, said the campaign against unlicensed guns had helped reduce the chances of rido, or clan war, and street crimes.

He said martial law also helped in the war on terror groups, including the New People’s Army (NPA).

He claimed that at least 10,000 NPA guerrillas and their supporters had surrendered as a result of martial law.

Martial law, he added, also led to the surrender of 174 members of the homegrown terror group Abu Sayyaf.

‘Peace spoilers’

“By next year, as the trend is sustained, we can make these peace spoilers irrelevant,” Galvez said.

But despite Galvez’s claims, several deadly explosions blamed on IS groups still rocked parts of Mindanao this year.

On July 31, a vehicle loaded with a powerful bomb exploded at Lamitan City in Basilan, killing 10 persons. Authorities blamed this on Abu Sayyaf.

Five people were also killed and nearly 50 others were wounded when two explosions hit Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, on Aug. 28 and Sept. 2. Law enforcers tagged renegade Moro rebels belonging to Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

The NPA, tagged by Mr. Duterte as a terrorist group after playing go-between in rebel releases of captives, also continued to attack government targets.

The military proposal for a third extension of martial law, also supported by the Philippine National Police, had met resistance from Church and leftist groups.

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