By Raïssa Robles
It’s the third time President Rodrigo Duterte has flown abroad with all the defense and security officials in tow.
The first was in April when a band of Abu Sayyaf rebels sneaked into the resort island of Bohol while Duterte was in the Middle East.
The second was early this month when Duterte went to the Belt and Road forum in China. Thankfully, there was no untoward incident in the country.
And the third was this week.
This time, however, Duterte brought along not only the Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff, the defense secretary, the national security adviser and his special assistant.
Duterte apparently also brought along to Russia the commanding generals of all three major service commands – the army, navy and air force, according to a report by ABS-CBN’s Chiara Zambrano last night when scattered gunfire could be heard in Marawi City.
So who the heck was in charge when trouble erupted?
Malacanang Palace has always justified not leaving anyone in charge by saying that Duterte is in control and is only a mobile phone call away. Besides, he has left the security forces under capable hands back home.
Both true. Duterte is just a phone call away and the military is capable.
However, leaving the national police force, plus the army, navy and air force all headless for ONE ENTIRE WEEK is perhaps a reckless thing to do, especially at this time when the Duterte government has so many military and police operations going on in many parts of the country.
During such fluid, rapidly-developing events, there are quick decisions that need to be made based on what is actually happening on the ground.
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Who was the point person inside or outside Malacanang Palace gathering all that information and feeding it to the President?
The information the President must have been given was enough to alarm him into declaring Martial Law in the ENTIRE MINDANAO.
Perhaps the declaration of Martial Law was to prevent a pintakasi, or a call to arms from the Maute Group for others to come and help.
Or perhaps Duterte just waiting for a pretext to declare Martial Law in Mindanao, so that should an incident also happen in Metro Manila, Martial Law could easily be widened and extended to the capital?
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Could Martial Law have an unintended, opposite effect in Mindanao?
From what I have seen covering Muslim rebels since 1986, a harsh government response does not cow Muslims. Rather, this even encourages them to act on their own.
Please remember our history.
The declaration of Martial Law in 1972 was what united the Muslims to band together and form the Moro National Liberation Front. They forgot for a while their ethnic differences – the Iranuns, the Maranaos, the Maguindanaos, the Tausug – they all fought side by side a bruising war against then dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
And they nearly won the battle, according to General Fortunato Abat, whom I was privileged to interview several times. Abat was in charge of the battle in central Mindanao and he confessed in a book he wrote later that they “nearly lost” Mindanao.
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Now, let’s look at other worrying scenarios. I am not trying to scare anyone. We just have to look at what’s happening objectively.
Please recall, in July 2000, President Joseph Estrada bombed and then overran Camp Abubakar of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Five months later on Rizal Day, December 30, 2000, bombs went off in Manila, including inside an LRT train.
This is but just one incident where Muslim rebels brought the conflict to Manila as a way of retaliating and also a way of easing pressure on and diverting attention from their fellow rebels in the south.
What I’m saying is that residents in Metro Manila and in other key cities of the country like Cebu will now have to be extra-vigilant and look out for suspicious packages.
I am not trying to scare anyone. This is just the reality.
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Having said all these, I would like to caution my fellow Christian Filipinos that the conflict in Mindanao was NEVER EVER OVER RELIGION.
It has always been OVER LAND, and that is what needs to be resolved urgently.
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UPDATE: from my former journo colleague, Teddy Montelibano, who posted the constitutional provision on Martial Law:
Sec 18 of Article VII (of the Philippine Constitution)
SECTION 18. The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion.
In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.
Within forty-eight hours from the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the President shall submit a report in person or in writing to the Congress.
The Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its Members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President.
Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.
The Congress, if not in session, shall, within twenty-four hours following such proclamation or suspension, convene in accordance with its rules without any need of a call.
The Supreme Court may review, in an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen, the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ or the extension thereof, and must promulgate its decision thereon within thirty days from its filing.
A STATE OF MARTIAL LAW DOES NOT SUSPEND THE OPERATION OF THE CONSTITUTION, NOR SUPPLANT THE FUNCTIONING OF THE CIVIL COURTS OR THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLIES, NOR AUTHORIZE THE CONFERMENT OF JURISDICTION ON MILITARY COURTS AND AGENCIES OVER CIVILIANS WHERE CIVIL COURTS ARE ABLE TO FUNCTION, NOR AUTOMATICALLY SUSPEND THE PRIVILEGE OF THE WRIT (OF HABEAS CORPUS).
The suspension of the privilege of the writ shall apply only to persons judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in or directly connected with the invasion.
DURING THE SUSPENSION OF THE PRIVILEGE OF THE WRIT, ANY PERSON THUS ARRESTED OR DETAINED SHALL BE JUDICIALLY CHARGED WITHIN THREE DAYS, OTHERWISE HE SHALL BE RELEASED.
(all caps are Teddy’s, for emphasis).
(And Teddy adds – just in case anyone out there doesn’t know what the writ of habeas corpus is:
A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS (which literally means to “produce the body”) is a court order to a person or agency holding someone in custody (such as a warden) to deliver the imprisoned individual to the court issuing the order and to show a valid reason for that person’s detention.