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Church leaders, activists decry martial law extension

Philippine groups vow protests, but decision to prolong military rule has some support in restive Mindanao

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Updated: December 14, 2017 09:20 AM GMT
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Church leaders, activists decry martial law extension

Student activists hold protests in Manila hours after a joint session of Congress voted on Dec. 13 to extend martial law in Mindanao for a year. (Photo by Joe Torres)


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Church leaders and human rights activists have voiced grave concerns over the extension of martial law for a year across the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.

As student activist held protests in Manila, civil society groups announced plans to stage demonstrations in coming days to show indignation at the decision.

A joint session of Congress approved on Dec. 13 a proposal by President Rodrigo Duterte to extend military rule in Mindanao.

Benedictine nun Mary John Mananzan, a leading human rights advocate, said the decision "is absolutely not necessary."

The nun, who recently formed with other rights activists the anti-Duterte group Movement Against Tyranny, said "it is clear" that what Duterte wants is "one-man rule."

"He wants to crush all opposition.... His expansion and prolongation of martial law is a clear step toward this goal," Sister Mary John said.

Other church leaders also expressed their opposition.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said the original declaration of martial law early this year was supposed to be "a quick response to an actual fact of rebellion."

The president declared martial law across Mindanao following a terrorist attack by Islamic State-inspired gunmen on the city of Marawi on May 23.

Bishop Pabillo said the decision by Congress to approve its extension "does not make it right."

For his part, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the central Philippine diocese of San Carlos, said the government should instead focus on addressing the root causes of rebellion.

"Instead of prolonging martial law, President Duterte should engage in more peace-building efforts through peace talks," said Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao.


No legal basis

Father Ranhilio Aquino, a legal expert and dean of the Graduate School of Law at Manila's San Beda College, said, "there is no legal basis for the extension of martial law."

He said the government itself declared the rebellion in Marawi quelled. "There is no legal basis for the promulgation of martial law," he said.

The priest supported the martial law declaration in May when clashes between troops and Islamic State-inspired gunmen were raging in Marawi.

Father Aquino, however, noted that martial law is only declared to deal with an emergency. "So when the emergency passes, there is no need for martial law," he said.

The Philippine Constitution states that martial law can only be declared "in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public’s safety requires it."

Father Aquino said fear of a surge of terrorism is "unfortunately not one of the constitutional grounds."


Matter of necessity

In Mindanao, several groups and individuals welcomed the extension of martial law.

Zia Alonto Adiong, a member of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao legislative assembly, said his support for martial law "rests on necessity and practicality.

"The actual threat of terrorism is not imaginary nor distant," said Adiong, spokesman of the assembly’s crisis management committee during the five-month conflict in Marawi.

He said what happened in Mindanao this year and the resulting humanitarian crisis created an "atmosphere of insecurity."

The political leader said that despite the end of the conflict, the challenge to normalize peace and security in the region "is still a work in progress."

"The battle in Marawi is over. The long war to free us from terror threats has yet to begin," he said, adding that the government is yet to win the war against terrorism.

Congressman Frederick Siao of nearby Iligan City said "security and political stability" were among the top concerns when Mindanao legislators voted for the extension of martial law.

"Recovery and rehabilitation efforts for Marawi will not prosper if the people's safety is not assured and the remaining pockets of terrorism are not quashed," he said.

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