Alvarez: Martial law 'right thing to do'

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez told colleagues, sitting as a commitee of the whole, that the declaration of martial law was the "right thing to do." PPD/Toto Lozano, File

Alvarez: Martial law 'right thing to do'
Audrey Morallo (Philstar.com) - May 31, 2017 - 8:35am

MANILA, Philippines — House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez told colleagues that the declaration of military rule in Mindanao was necessary considering the threats it and the rest of the nation are facing as he emphasized that President Rodrigo Duterte’s and the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos’ declarations are different.

Duterte ally Alvarez told the House convened as a committee of the whole to hear from senior government officials about the basis of the declaration as well as the current situation in Marawi City and nearby areas that the president’s declaration was necessary not only because of the danger the nation faces government says the nation faces and the number of lives devastated but also because it is “the right thing to do.”

“We have to do this, not only because the dangers we face have devastated the lives of thousands. We have to do this, not only because these threats can easily spill over and engulf the rest of the nation in flames. We have to do this, because it is the right thing to do,” he said.

On May 23, Duterte placed the entire island of Mindanao under martial law following deadly clashes between Philippine security forces and fighters of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or IS)-inspired Maute Group and a faction of the Abu Sayyaf under Isnilon Hapilon.

The clashes stemmed from the alleged failed attempt of the military to raid the hideout of Hapilon and Maute leaders.

In response to the security operation, Maute and Abu Sayyaf fighters occupied pockets of the city from which they have been fighting the Philippine military since last week.

Latest reports from the Armed Forces say that 89 Islamist militants have already been killed as it assured the public that the government would have full control of Marawi City, which has been transformed from a bustling city of 200,000 to a ghost town almost overnight, by the end of this week.

Security forces meanwhile suffered 21 deaths while 19 civilians were killed in the firefights, which have turned into street-by-street combat as the military tries to flush out the remaining Islamist fighters holed up in some structures in the city.

'Not like Marcos' martial law'

Alvarez also tried to douse fears that Duterte’s declaration of military rule in Mindanao would see similar violations of human rights and civil liberties as those recorded and proven during the martial law period of Marcos, who was ousted by a popular peaceful revolt in 1986.

He told representatives that they should not view the current situation “from the perspective of the past” as he underscored that the 1987 Constitution has a sufficient number of safeguards to prevent abuses.

Among those safeguards is the power given to Congress to review and, in joint session, possibly reject the declaration of martial law. Congress, both Houses of which are controlled by a coalition led by the administration PDP-Laban party, has opted not to hold a joint session.

Very few in the Senate and the House of Representatives have expressed opposition to martial law.

“While we understand the reservations of some with martial law, let us view the situation not exclusively from the perspective of the past. Our present constitution provides sufficient safeguards to prevent abuses by agents of the State. Moreover, we give the public our assurance that we are keeping a watchful eye upon the unfolding of events and will step in as a counter-balance should and when the need arises,” he said.

He also subtly chided critics not living in Mindanao, saying they should not view the situation from “ivory towers,” disconnected from the realities in the ground.

“[W]ill our response be to view the occasion from ivory towers and, while disconnected from the realities on the ground, choose to chain the hands of the president at a time when he needs our full support the most?” the House speaker said.

Alvarez however might find it difficult to convince critics of the merits of martial law, considering the number of loopholes and inconsistencies in government’s explanation and even in the president’s report to Congress explaining the circumstances surrounding his declaration.

It was also reported that the Duterte declared martial law on Mindanao island, which has a population of 22 million, despite Eduardo Año’s, the military chief, assurance that the situation was under control of the events leading to the declaration.

Discussions on martial law were held behind closed doors.

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