By Raïssa Robles
This time, there was no Presidential Proclamation, no Executive Order, no Letter of Instruction. There was nothing in writing.
It was merely announced through a press briefing.
The basis? A legal opinion from Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra that rebellion existed on the ground. Guevarra’s basis? We don’t know. The reporters weren’t told.
When a reporter asked whether the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus would be suspended as well, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella replied – “suspension of writ of habeas corpus and details to follow na lang.”
Is this how Martial Law will unfold for the rest of the country?
Details to follow?
There is a scary sort of casualness about Abella’s statement when he talked about eroding the Filipinos’ civil liberties.
During the press conference in Manila upon his arrival, Duterte claimed he signed the declaration of Martial Law but happened to leave it in Moscow.
Was he joking? Or was there no actual document and he was just making excuses why he cannot share the document publicly. And even if he left the document in Moscow, he could simply ask Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano who was left behind there to retrieve it, scan it and e-mail the scanned soft copy.
Please read the transcript of the entire press briefing below provided by Malacañang Palace, which disclosed that Duterte declared Martial Law in Mindanao:
Press briefing by Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano
[At the Four Seasons Hotel, Moscow, Russia | 23 May 2017]
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: 23 May 2017, Moscow. The President has called me and asked me to announce that as of 10 p.m. Manila time, he has already declared Martial Law for the entire island of Mindanao.
SDES Guevarra [Note: Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra] has clarified that this was possible on the grounds of existence of rebellion because of what is happening in Mindanao based on Article 7, Section 18 of the Constitution. This is good for 60 days.
I am going to defer now to Secretary Del Lorenzana, Secretary of National Defense, to give us a backgrounder and then to Secretary Alan Cayetano of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
SEC. LORENZANA: Good evening. At 2 p.m. this afternoon, Manila time, joint elements of the Army and the Police were trying to serve a warrant of arrest on Isnilon Hapilon at Barangay Basak Malutlut in Marawi City when they were met with firefight or firearms — gunfire from the group of Hapilon Isnilon.
At the same time other groups also of the Maute and ISIS, a group of ISIS, this Maute is an ISIS inspired. He started also to occupy some establishment in Marawi City. They occupied the Amai Pakpak Hospital, this is a hospital under the DOH, the City Hall, City Jail and part of the MSU compound.
Firefight ensued and our troops reacted properly but as of tonight — tonight in the Philippines, the Maute group burned several facilities: the St. Mary’s Church, the City Jail, the Ninoy Aquino School, and the Dansalan College.
The Maute fighters still occupy also the main street of Marawi City, it’s called the Quezon Street and two bridges leading to the city. As of tonight, there were three killed government troops, one PNP and two Army and 12 wounded.
The whole of Marawi City is blackout, there is no light and there are snipers, Maute snipers all around. So the troops are still on holding and several troops elements have already joined them from other neighboring units. And tomorrow morning we are bringing in more troops from Zamboanga and Manila.
I talked to the commander of the First Division Major General Rolando Bautista a while ago just maybe five minutes ago and he gave me this update. Later I talked to the Governor of Lanao del Sur, Governor Adiong and he also told me the same thing. Now, no civilians are roaming around, they are all in their houses but there were several houses also that were burned surrounding the other facilities that were burned earlier.
Now, that is all that we can give you at this moment. We are still waiting for other developments.
SEC. CAYETANO: Hi, good afternoon. I have spoken to our — to my counterpart here in Moscow and have explained the situation and they understand that the security of the Filipino people especially in Marawi and the whole Mindanao is a priority.
They understand that the presence of the President — of President Duterte is essential in the Philippines but I will be staying behind.
The agreements will be signed and we will have a bilateral meeting with the Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov.
Q: [Ika-cut short niya?]
SEC. CAYETANO: They will announce it but they are now making arrangements because the President feels that he is needed in Manila as soon as possible. So they will make an announcement either Presidential Spokesman or someone else in the Cabinet.
But definitely the agreements will push through but the President will not be staying until 24th and the 25th.
We’ll make an announcement later.
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: We continue to encourage the community in Marawi and in Mindanao to please take all precaution, cooperate with authorities and stay calm.
We are open now to a few questions.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Joseph Morong (GMA): Sir, just to fine-tune the declaration, what are the areas in Mindanao that is covered? And —
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: It is the entire island of Mindanao.
Mr. Morong: And because of that, what would be the security setup there? Papaano—
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: The details will be forthcoming. Any other questions?
Doris Bigornia (ABS-CBN): Sir, what about in Manila, is there a need to declare a state of emergency considering that there has been declaration before by the PNP Chief himself that there’s some presence of ISIS in Manila?
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: What the President has done is just to declare only for the island — entire island of Mindanao, including Basilan and Sulu.
Ms. Bigornia: Basilan and Sulu.
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Yeah, and Tawi-Tawi.
Arlyn dela Cruz (Radyo Inquirer): Sir, question. Just a clarification na there are reports that it’s an ISIS attack and you’re saying it’s a Maute group with ASG. What group is behind the attack in Marawi?
SEC. LORENZANA: It is actually Maute/ISIS because they are the same.
Ms. Dela Cruz: If it is an ISIS attack, does it mean that it has an international backing?
SEC. LORENZANA: I believe so because we already… There was… There have been reports that came to me from Baghdad that they are already seeing these pictures in the website of ISIS.
Ms. Dela Cruz: Filipinos?
SEC. LORENZANA: No. I think the website of ISIS in the Middle East.
Ms. Dela Cruz: So there’s prior information to this attack in that website?
SEC. LORENZANA: Maybe no but we can always stream those information immediately just like what we are doing now. I also got pictures of those people just today from Marawi.
Ms. Bigornia: Secretary Alan, would that mean that the meetings with Medvedev and President Putin are scrapped?
SEC. CAYETANO: Again, the presence of the President — the physical presence is needed in the Philippines. That is the President’s assessment and his priority is always the protection of each and every Filipino.
He will act within the framework of the Constitution. We will follow all rules and regulations.
Now, the meetings between President Duterte and President Putin and President Duterte and Prime Minister Medvedev will be postponed and…
But we are in the process of arranging that President Putin and President Duterte will be able to speak most probably it will be a phone call because President Putin is not in Moscow at this point in time.
Rose Novenario (Hataw): Good afternoon, sir. Ah good evening na pala. Sir, magkakaroon po ng forced evacuation sa mga civilian communities para mag- give way po sa surgical — possible surgical operations po?
SEC. LORENZANA: Wala pa ngayon. Ang sinasabi namin doon stay in their homes muna. Huwag silang mag-kalat-kalat sa paligid ngayong gabi dahil wala ngang ilaw at maraming snipers ‘yung mga ISIS/Maute doon na nag-aabang, baka mapagkamalan silang sundalo.
Also, the soldiers will also — might mistake them to be the enemies. So stay put muna sa mga bahay nila and then tomorrow when it’s light, so malalaman natin kung ano pang gagawin natin doon.
We may require them to get out of their homes or evacuate them but we will provide the evacuation facilities like transportation para makaalis sila kung magkaroon talaga ng house to house fighting diyan sa Marawi.
Pia Ranada (Rappler): Sir, may we know how the President decided? What was his thought process and what were the events that led to his deciding to declare Martial Law? Was he briefed? Who briefed him? Was his decision also suggested by Defense officials?
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: He met with his own group and we will just have to leave it at that. The full details we don’t have.
Ms. Ranada: His own group? Sorry?
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Yes.
Ms. Ranada: His own group?
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: His own group of — his group of advisers, okay. We don’t have the details about the composition of the advisers.
Henry Uri (DZRH): Secretary Lorenzana, considering the urgency of the situation in Mindanao, do you think there’s a necessity to ask for immediate military support or assistance either in China or here in Russia?
SEC. LORENZANA: None. I think we can do this. We’ll just have to reshuffle our troops. Medyo nabigla lang sila doon because they were expecting to arrest Mr. Isnilon.
They didn’t know that he was backed up by more or less about 100 armed fighters. But we will be able to contain them as we go along, maybe tomorrow or in the next two days.
Mr. Uri: Iyon ho bang Marawi area, matagal na hong pinamumugaran ng mga Maute group at ito ho ba’y matagal nang sinusubaybayan?
SEC. LORENZANA: Yes. If you remember, we were able to — we bombed them in Butig. Isnilon was there in Butig early this year and they were scattered and…
But it’s coming out now from the reports of the military that they have a lot of sympathizers in Marawi City.
So they were able to infiltrate Marawi without the knowledge of the military that’s why they were able to go there undetected, maybe posing as civilians coming to the city until they saw this.
If they did not see Isnilon siguro, they will not be able to have this incident because Isnilon was there. He was seeking medical attention and when he was approached to — his hideout or his safe house was approached to arrest him, they started firing at our soldiers. That’s why there was this encounter.
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: We’ll have to confine it to the last one, two questions because I’ll be deferring now to Sec. Alan Cayetano.
SEC. CAYETANO: Pia, just to add to your question — to add to the answer ‘no — the President does not take lightly the declaration of Martial Law of any part of the Philippines.
In fact, this option was an option in the past. He has announced that there are groups that have been auditioning for recognition in ISIS and both Secretary Lorenzana and Secretary Esperon and our Chief of Staff Año and Chief PNP Dela Rosa have continuously briefed you about certain security threats in Mindanao.
The President doesn’t take this lightly because we — he knows and his Cabinet knows that there are implications, for example, in tourism.
The mere declaration of Martial Law would dissuade some from going to Mindanao at this point in time.
But the priority of the President is the safety, the lives and the property of the people of Mindanao.
So he cannot sacrifice the lives of people for any amount of money or for any economic reasons.
So please, rest assured that the details will come in later because of two reasons: one, they are focused now on the situation; number two, there are many things that they cannot discuss at this point in time because the groups in Mindanao who are being monitored are also monitoring what we will say here and we cannot reveal the strategy or the military tactics or the actions of the civilian government.
So we apologize at this time but we will be transparent and give you the information you need as soon as we are capable of giving it without endangering the lives of the men in uniform, especially in Mindanao.
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I think we need to defer to the statement of Secretary Cayetano regarding the delicacy of the matter. So let me just end now.
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star): Usec, do you still maintain — sa mga ating officials — do you still maintain your previous statement that the government is still in control of the situation in Marawi considering may mga lumalabas na—?
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: My statement was… My statement if you were listening to it is this: He has full confidence in AFP and PNP’s management of the situation, all right. And so that is why he is returning also to the Philippines and so let us continue to trust in the process.
Mr. Romero: Okay. Let me just ask Secretary Lorenzana, is the government in full control of Marawi right now?
SEC. LORENZANA: Of course. I told you a while ago, I just talked to the Division Commander. General Bautista is supposed to be in Pulacan, Zamboanga del Sur but he is now in Marawi this morning.
So sabi niya, wala namang problema. We will just try to hold the ground tonight so that we can bring in more troops maybe tonight and tomorrow morning. So under control ‘yan.
Ms. Bigornia: Sec. Lorenzana, how many troops of the Maute and ISIS are we talking about and meron po bang nagkaroon ng lapse sa intelligence kaya nakapasok sila ng undetected sa Marawi?
SEC. LORENZANA: Alam naman natin na nandiyan sila eh. And in fact, there was this big firefight somewhere in [?] diyan sa mga mountainous diyan areas surrounding Marawi City.
And I don’t think there is a lapse of intelligence. It’s just appreciation of the intelligence that was lacking there.
Baka hindi nila… Akala nila eh kayang-kaya but you know, it’s just… There’s intelligence there. It’s just the appreciation of what intelligence means that medyo nagkamali sila.
Ms. Bigornia: Sir, it was not a lapse? There was no lapse?
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Thank you very much.
Mr. Morong: Sir, why all of Mindanao, sir?
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, that is the declaration of the President, all right?
Mr. Morong: Secretary Lorenzana?
SEC. LORENZANA: Because there are also problems in Zamboanga, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in also in Central Mindanao, in the BIFF area.
And we also have some problems in the Region 11, ‘yung mga pangongotong ng mga NPA.
Sabi nga ni Presidente, he has been telling these people that if I declare Martial Law, tatapusin ko lahat ng problema so kaya nga buong Mindanao na.
Mr. Morong: Sir, related to your statement, how is the declaration of the Martial Law going to help with the problem with Maute and all of that?
SEC. LORENZANA: Well, we will be able to control their movements, we can… Lahat ng gagawin na dapat gawin sa Martial Law, we will implement. Control of movement, searches and arrest of detained people for —
Mr. Morong: Warrantless arrest, sir?
SEC. LORENZANA: — suspension of writ of habeas corpus and details to follow na lang.
Mr. Morong: Sir, ‘yung arrest will begin when?
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Mr. Morong, details to follow. Thank you very much. Thank you very much.
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