MANILA The House of Representatives and the Senate on Wednesday convened in a joint session to tackle President Rodrigo Duterte's request for a one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao.
The joint session started at 9:01 a.m. with 14 senators and 162 congressmen responding to the roll call.
Under the Constitution, the Congress, voting jointly, has the sole power to extend martial law.
If the proposal to extend martial law until the end of 2019 is approved, it will mark the third of such extension.
The Resolution of Both Houses 16, informing the President that Congress has convened in a joint session, was adopted, as well as the proposed rules governing the special session on martial law extension.
In his report to the joint session, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said Duterte is requesting for another extension of martial law upon an extensive personal evaluation of the current situation in Mindanao and taking into account the security assessments from the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, among others.
"We cannot turn a blind eye that Mindanao is still in a midst of rebellion. There may have been a significant decimation of local and foregin groups in Marawi City, a weakening of communist terrorist groups' and local terrorist groups' capability in the entire Mindanao, and a reduction of atrocities that translated to notable economic gains," Medialdea said.
He expressed hope that after the briefing, lawmakers would be assured that the current martial law in Mindanao is being implemented in a "very disciplined way, free from abuses and always abiding by the rule of law."
In his letter to Congress dated Dec. 6, Duterte asked Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to extend the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao for one more year, from Jan. 1, 2019 to Dec. 31, 2019.
Duterte cited the security assessment submitted by the AFP and the Philippine National Police, indicating that rebellion still persists in Mindanao and that public safety requires the continuation of martial rule in the area.
Duterte said terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and Dawlah Islamiyah continue to defy the government by perpetrating hostile activities during the extended period of martial law.
He noted that at least four bombings had been cited in the AFP report, including the Lamitan City bombing and the improvised explosive device (IED) explosions in Sultan Kudarat and Barangay Apopong in General Santos City.
"A further extension of the implementation of Martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao will enable the AFP, the PNP, and all other law enforcement agencies to finally put an end to the ongoing rebellion in Mindanao and continue to prevent the same from escalating in other parts of the country," Duterte said in his letter.
"We cannot afford to give the rebels further breathing room to regroup and strengthen their forces. Public safety indubitably requires such further extension in order to avoid the further loss of lives and physical harm, not only to our soldiers and the police, but also to our civilians," he added.
Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law on May 23, 2017 following attacks launched by the terrorist Maute Group in Marawi City.
At the height of the six-month Marawi conflict in July last year, the House granted Duterte's request for martial law extension until Dec. 31, 2017.
The House and the Senate granted anew the President's request for the extension of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus for a year, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2018. (PNA)
Source: Philippine News Agency