Spoilers of peace
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - January 2, 2019 - 12:00am

As expected, arch critics of President Rodrigo Duterte were frothing in the mouth for his no-show last Sunday at the annual commemoration of the death anniversary of our country’s national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. President Duterte skipped attending the event to rest, according to his close aide, Christopher “Bong” Go, former special assistant to the President.

Malacañang has yet to release an official statement on the President’s absence. Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, the President’s daughter, did the honors for him during the 122nd anniversary of the execution of our national hero in ceremonies held in Davao city’s own version of Rizal Park.

Go claimed the President’s doctor advised the 73-year-old Chief Executive to take a rest because he was “very busy” in the past few days. On the eve of Rizal Day, the President flew from Davao City to Cotabato and back. He led the distribution of land titles to 6,424 farmers in the province in rites held at Kidapawan City in North Cotabato.

Meanwhile, Vice President Leni Robredo led the traditional raising of the giant Philippine flag at rites held in Luneta last Sunday morning. There was nothing unusual in President Duterte’s skipping this year’s Rizal Day commemorative event.

President Duterte skipped the 112th Independence Day anniversary rites – also traditionally held during flag-raising ceremonies at the Rizal’s monument in Luneta – on June 12 last year purportedly due to exhaustion. According to former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, who substituted for Mr. Duterte at the flag-raising rites, the President got exhausted in leading government efforts to meet its target to liberate Marawi City from the Islamic State (IS)-influenced terrorists led by the Maute brothers who laid siege in the capital city of Lanao del Sur.

The Maute-led siege in Marawi City that erupted on May 23, 2017 triggered the imposition of Mindanao-wide martial law and suspension of writ of habeas corpus. Under the 1987 Constitution, martial law can only be imposed for a maximum of 60 days upon concurrence by Congress. It was only on October 17 last year when President Duterte declared Marawi City has been finally liberated after 148 days of the war since the infamous Maute siege started. Although Marawi City was liberated already, President Duterte still asked Congress to continue the Mindanao-wide martial law extension until December 2018, citing continuous threat and insurgency of the New People’s Army in the region. 

Before it lapsed, the President asked for a third extension of Mindanao-wide martial law. In making this request to Congress, the President noted a significant progress in putting the rebellion under control, that this has been achieved during the implementation of martial law in the region and that it also resulted in economic gains. The presidential proclamation invoked the security assessment submitted by the police and the military that “certain essential facts which indicate that rebellion still persists in Mindanao and that public safety requires the continuation of martial law in the whole of Mindanao.”

The President impressed upon the 17th Congress the need to extend the Mindanao-wide martial law because the kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf bandit group; the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF); the Daulah Islamiyah; and other terrorist groups continue to defy the government by perpetrating hostile activities against the people and the government.

The President underscored the extension of martial law will enable the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP); the Philippine National Police (PNP); and the other law enforcement agencies to finally put an end to the ongoing rebellion in Mindanao and continue to prevent the same from spreading to other parts of the country.

The opposition lawmakers argued there is no actual rebellion happening in Mindanao to warrant a further extension of martial law. They tried but failed to block the overwhelming approval of the extension of martial law in Mindanao last December 12 before the 17th Congress adjourned for the Christmas recess.

The third Mindanao-wide martial law remained in effect starting yesterday, January 1 and will last until December 31, 2019.

But even before the second extension of martial law could lapse on December 31, 2018, an improvised explosive device (IED) – laden with concrete nails and jagged metal fragments – exploded in front of a shopping mall along Magallanes St. in Cotabato City. At least two persons were killed and more than 30 others were injured after a powerful explosion.

The IED was reportedly left by still unidentified suspect/s underneath one of the tables near the entrance of the mall where there were some ambulant vendors selling fireworks. Another IED placed inside a suspicious-looking bag left unattended was allegedly found on the second floor of the mall. Responding police and Army bomb experts detonated it.

As of this writing, police and military authorities were still trying to piece together the IED that could lead authorities to the suspects. While residents of Cotabato City are no strangers to deadly IED attacks, government officials strongly believe the outlawed BIFF might be behind this latest IED attack.

The BIFF, another IS-influenced group, broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as they objected to the terms of the peace talks with the government on the proposed Bangsamoro framework agreement. There were reports that the blast could be the handiworks of the BIFF to spoil preparations for the forthcoming Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) plebiscite later this month.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) set on January 21 and on February 6 this year the plebiscites for the ratification of the BOL that would create the BARMM, replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The IED attack in Cotabato City sadly took place as the Philippines joined other peace-loving people from other countries in celebrating World Peace Day. The bombers are nothing but spoilers of peace.

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