Congress has today (Wednesday, December 13) voted overwhelmingly to extend martial law in Mindanao throughout next year.
A joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives granted President Duterte’s request to maintain martial law and the suspension of habeas corpus until December 31, 2018. The vote was passed by 240 to 27, with no abstentions.
Under the Constitution, any extension of martial law must be passed by a simple majority of the two chambers, or at least 158 members.
Opposition lawmakers had argued that the further extension was unconstitutional because the president had declared the liberation of Marawi and described the communists as a “spent force”.
“It is clear that this is a tool of repression leading to a dictatorship,” congresswoman Emmi De Jesus said, explaining her vote.
“Is this now a prelude to declaring martial law nationwide?” asked senate minority leader Franklin Drilon.
However, the president’s cabinet members have downplayed such fears.
“We do not ask for unlimited martial law. What we are seeking is unlimited peace,” Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told the joint session.
President Duterte placed the island of Mindanao under martial law on May 23 after terrorists affiliated to the Islamic State laid siege to Marawi City. The initial declaration, approved by Congress, was limited to 60 days.
Then, in July, Congress granted an extension until December 31 this year at the president’s request.
In his letter dated December 8, the president asked Congress to further extend the declaration of martial law in order to counter any threats posed by remnants of the terrorists and by communist rebels in the region.
He said extending martial law for another year would help state security forces crush the rebellion in Mindanao and ensure public safety.
Major General Arnel dela Vega, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, said there was still a danger the terrorist remnants could regroup.
“Their effort is reorganisation and recruitment,” he said. “We are keen on exerting effort rather than countering. We are focused on preventing further extremist efforts.”