By Hannah Torregoza
Members of the Senate minority bloc on Wednesday registered their strong and unequivocal “no” vote to extend martial law in Mindanao.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said there is nothing in the letter of President Rodrigo Duterte that would justify the extension of martial law in Mindanao.
“Mr. President, in the briefing that we had with the military officials last Monday, I did not hear anything that constitutes actual uprising to remove from the allegiance of the government, Mindanao or any part thereof. Neither was there anything in the letter of the President that will justify the extension of martial law in Mindanao,” Drilon said in his speech during the joint session on the martial law extension.
“The Constitution is clear that martial law may be declared only in cases of actual rebellion when public safety requires it. The elements of rebellion are well-settled: it is committed by rising publicly and taking arms against the government for the purpose of removing from its allegiance the territory of the Philippines or any part thereof,” the minority chief pointed out.
“The persistence to continuously place Mindanao under martial law, without any clear showing of actual rebellion, makes me wonder: Is this the new normal?” he asked.
Drilon warned that unlimited use of martial law could lead to abuses in the long run especially when it becomes part of the Mindanaon’s “everyday reality.”
“Antibiotic resistance develops through the misuse and overuse of antibiotics. It occurs when the bacteria develops the ability to defeat the very drug designed to kill it. The longer and more often antibiotics are used, the less effective they become. A stronger, more expensive drug may then be required to kill the bacteria,” he said.
“Ang Martial Law po ay parang (martial law is like) antibiotic. It is resorted to only when ordinary over-the-counter drugs have ceased to work. Unlimited resort to this powerful medicine desensitizes the body and eventually no longer becomes effective in providing the protection that it was designed to give. Martial law is a measure of last resort. We must not resort to it when other, less extreme measures are available,” he stressed.
Drilon also said the enacted Bangsamoro basic law (BBL) is incompatible with the government’s declared policy to increase the Bangsamoro’s autonomy and the continued declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
“In asking for multiple extensions of martial law in Mindanao, the government seems to have difficulties in entrusting control of civilian functions to the local governments in the region,” he stressed. “Mr. President, I hope that Congress will not let itself become a tool for the normalization of martial law in Mindanao. We must not let that happen,” he added.
Sen. Paolo “Bam” Aquino IV also said he cannot accept the country’s security officials who use the basis of “psychological effect” to justify the extension of martial law. “So the question here now is: what are their standards to lift martial law? It was not clear to us also what would be the basis of the government to remove martial law,” Aquino said.
If their reason is to have peace and order and to pursue the rehabilitation of Marawi City, Aquino reiterated that “martial law is not needed for the rehabilitation. All that is needed is leadership and political will—that was already broached by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) but I repeat martial law is not needed for that. What is needed is for the government agencies to do their respective jobs. That is what we need right now.”
Apart from Drilon and Aquino, the other minority senators who voted no against the extension of martial law were Senators Risa Hontiveros and Francis Pangilinan. “Like the past extensions, I find no cogent rationale for martial law that our existing legislation, and the capacity of our military forces, cannot address,” Hontiveros said.
“But unlike the previous extensions of July 2017 and December 2017, this new extension poses a new set of threats – specifically because the new extension period will cover the May 2019 elections,” she pointed out.
While the Executive has intimated that martial law would ensure the more orderly conduct of elections, and that it will prevent violence and lawlessness from tarnishing the electoral process, Hontiveros said both historical precedent and “the track record of this administration give us reason to doubt.”
Hontiveros recalled that the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos utilized martial law in 1978 primarily to ensure his victory in the elections and silence his critics who were protesting the rampant electoral fraud during that time.
“The way the Duterte administration treats its critics—jailing them over trumped-up charges, revoking the amnesty that have long been granted to them—only shows that Mr. Duterte is not so different from the fallen dictator,” she said.
“Because in addition to fears already expressed—fears that have not been allayed by a government that continues to run roughshod on human rights and civil liberties — I am afraid of what martial law might mean for the democratic right to vote, I continue to vote no,” Hontiveros said.
Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero was the lone member of the Senate majority bloc who voted “no” against the extension of martial law.