Lorenzana starts crackdown on ARMM absentee mayors
John Unson (The Philippine Star) - January 13, 2018 - 12:00am

COTABATO CITY, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has ordered the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to account for “absentee” local chief executives whose towns are plagued by Islamic extremists.

Lorenzana, as martial law administrator in Mindanao, tasked ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman and governors of provinces outside the autonomous region to closely monitor the participation of non-performing local executives in Malacañang’s counterterrorism campaign.

Hataman, chairman of the regional peace and order council, said he would mobilize starting Monday the provincial personnel of different ARMM agencies to check on the “obligatory presence” of local officials in their respective towns and on how they are serving their constituents.

“Obviously the purpose of the directive of the martial administrator is to ensure that local government units in troubled areas are functioning efficiently. I agree, only good governance can address violent religious extremism. That is something we have been trying to do in the regional government since 2012,” Hataman said.

Lorenzana issued the two-page directive stressing the need to stop habitual absenteeism among local officials to efficiently address domestic peace and security issues resulting from poor governance.

Lorenzana directed Hataman to monitor the presence of his provincial officials in the ARMM provinces of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur and in the scattered islands of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

The autonomous region also covers the cities of Lamitan and Marawi, the administrative and political capitals of Basilan and Lanao del Sur, respectively.

Some mayors in Lanao del Sur have been criticized for failing to prevent the Maute group from gaining a foothold in their towns. The Islamic State (IS)-linked terror group started out as a terror cell in Butig town in the province.

The Maute group occupied Marawi City on May 23 until they were driven out by government troops after five months of intense battle that left thousands of people dead and homeless.

The fighting in Marawi forced President Duterte to place the entire Mindanao under martial law until the end of 2017 to deal with the crisis and prevent other armed groups from reinforcing the militants or launching similar uprisings elsewhere in the region.

Congress approved the extension of martial law up to Dec. 31 this year.

Justify extension

Critics, however, questioned the justification of extending the implementation of martial law in Mindanao.

Several petitions were filed before the Supreme Court, with former Commission on Human Rights chair Etta Rosales and former poll chief Christian Monsod filing the latest of the petitions.

Rosales, accompanied by her legal counsel former solicitor general Florin Hilbay, argued the one-year marital law extension is unconstitutional because there is no actual invasion or rebellion in Mindanao. 

She said the framers of the 1987 Constitution required an actual invasion or rebellion before the President can declare or extend martial law.

“Thus, in the absence of an actual invasion or actual rebellion, necessarily, there is no factual basis for extending martial law, precisely because there is no need to supplant or supplement civilian law with military law,” Rosales added.

Hilbay, for his part, said the petition is asking the high court to make a clear definition of martial law. 

“The basic idea of the petition is to try to answer the fundamental petition of what is martial law… They have allowed the exercise of martial law powers but they have not defined what martial law is all about. It does not define what the military can do, what the president can and cannot do. Our petition seeks clarification,” he said.

Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, asked the high court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao. – With Evelyn Macairan, Christina Mendez

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