Philippines Congress extends Mindanao martial law until end of 2018

The joint session of the Congress in the Philippines approved President Rodrigo Duterte’ request to extend the declaration of martial law in Mindanao until December 31, 2018.

After more than four hours of debate, the Senate voted 14-4 while the House voted 226-23 in favour of extending the martial law for another year during the joint session on Wednesday.

In his letter addressed to Congress, Duterte cited continuing threats by Islamic State-inspired terrorists, local militant groups and the New People’s Army (NPA) as main reasons for seeking an extension of martial law.

Some lawmakers opposed the move saying prolonging the already extended martial law is unconstitutional and it can only lead to more human rights violations in Mindanao.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon questioned the inclusion of the NPA as a basis for the extension. NPA was not included in the May 23 proclamation issued after IS-inspired Maute group terrorists attacked Marawi City in Lanao del Sur, Drilon said.

Earlier, talking to Malacañang Press Corps at a Christmas party, Duterte said the decades-long militancy in Mindanao can be addressed if the government accepts some of the demands of Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front.

The government has been seeking the passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) for the creation of a Bangsamoro political entity with enhanced autonomy.

Meanwhile, efforts are underway to shift the country’s unitary form of government to a federal one where some of the central powers will be devolved to states.

Congress need not hasten the process towards federalism but the country will suffer if the government fails to find the “right formula” in bringing peace to Mindanao, Duerte said.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez wants Congress to discuss the charter change early next year.