Despite protests, lawmakers overwhelmingly back martial law extension

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Protesters outside the joint session of today. Picture by NUSP, via Twitter.

Philippine lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to extend martial law on Mindanao until the end of the year.

Only 18 members of the House of Representatives and Senate voted against retaining military rule on the troubled southern island, against 261 who gave it their backing today (Saturday, July 22).

The vote — which required a two-thirds majority — was largely a foregone conclusion as President Duterte continues to enjoy strong support in both houses.

During the seven-hour special session, security officials told lawmakers that martial law was needed to stabilise a region where Islamic State (IS) was gaining ground and attracting foreign jihadis and increased domestic support.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana warned of more serious problems if the did not have the powers to act swiftly and decisively.

“We need martial law because we haven’t addressed yet the existence of other Daesh-inspired groups,” he said. ‘Daesh’ is another name for IS.

President Duterte placed all of Mindanao under martial law on May 23 when Maute and Abu Sayyaf militants went on the rampage in Marawi City.

Two months on, the battle to free the city continues to rage. As of today, more than 420 militants, 100 soldiers and at least 45 civilians have been killed.

Meanwhile, up to half a million people have been forced to flee their homes, while an unknown number are being held as human shields.

In a statement, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said: “The rebellion in Marawi continues to persist and we want to stop the spread of the evil of terrorism and free the people of Mindanao from the tyranny of lawlessness and violent extremism.”

However, some opponents have expressed fears that President Duterte might eventually place the entire country under martial law.

Senator Franklin said extension until end of the year was too long, while Senator Risa Hontiveros said martial law had “no strategic contribution to the military’s anti-terrorism operations”.

She added: “I fear that the plan to extend the martial law in Mindanao will pave the way for a Philippines-wide martial law.”

Another opponent, congressman Edcel Lagman, said there was “no factual basis” for martial law and that the siege in Marawi was terrorism, not rebellion.

Rebellion, along with invasion, is one of the pre-conditions for declaring martial law under the 1987 constitution, which was drafted to prevent the sort of abuses seen during the years of martial law under Ferdinand Marcos.

Among the overwhelming majority to support the extention was boxer-turned senator Manny Pacquiao, who invoked the Bible in support of the move.

Invoking Romans 13, he said: “Let everyone subject themselves to the governing authorities for there is no governing authorities except that which God has established. The authorities that exist has been established by God.

“Consequently whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

Martial law allows the military to impose curfews, checkpoints and gun controls in a country where licensed civilian gun ownership is permitted.

The subject remains highly sensitive in the Philippines, decades after Marcos used martial law to entrench his dictatorship.

During this time, thousands of critics, political opponents and suspected communists were killed, detained or arrested. The era was brought to an end by the people power revolution of 1986.

During today’s session, about a dozen protesters in the gallery interrupted the hearing, chanting “never again, never again to martial law”, before being escorted out.

There were also protests outside the House of Representatives and across the country.