Military mulls martial law or state of emergency in Sulu
MANILA, Philippines — The military is weighing whether to recommend martial law or a state of emergency in Sulu province following the deadly twin blasts in the capital town of Jolo on Monday, but senators thumbed down the proposal, saying the newly approved anti-terrorism law would be enough to respond to the bombings.
“The situation dictates, calls for (martial law),” Army chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana told reporters on Tuesday.
The explosion on Aug. 24 killed soldiers, police, civilians and at least one bomber and wounded 75 people, in the country’s deadliest attack since a double suicide bombing at a cathedral, also in Jolo, in January 2019 left 20 people dead and wounded at least 100.
Martial law was lifted at the end of last year in Mindanao, two-and-a-half years after it was imposed to fight Islamic State-inspired militants who took over Marawi City.
Sobejana pointed out that declaring martial law or placing Sulu under a state of emergency would likely “bring back normalcy and we could really control the movement of terrorists.”
“It (people’s movement) has to be controlled. Otherwise, it will be a repetitive thing, victimizing the locals,” he said. “The intention is to ensure that everything is being controlled especially the movements of the terror groups.”
Sobejana said he was still mulling the idea of recommending such a declaration and would course his proposal through the chain of command.
PNP chief for martial law
The Philippine National Police chief supported the call of Sobejana to place the province of Sulu under martial law.
“This will allow the military and police more operational flexibility to carry out law enforcement operations against domestic threat groups in the area,” Police Gen. Archie Gamboa said in a statement.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, main sponsor of the antiterrorism measure, said declaring martial law might not be necessary as the country had passed a strong anti-terrorism law.
Lacson, however, lamented that the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the law had yet to be crafted.
The IRR “could have given our law enforcement agencies and the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] the impetus to fully implement the law with efficacy and confidence, even proactively as we have included even ‘inchoate offenses’ punishable for even at the stage of planning and preparation,” he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III also rejected the martial law suggestion and said Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism Act because it was hoping that it would solve terrorism in Mindanao.
Sen. Ronald dela Rosa aired a similar sentiment, saying the Jolo bombings showed the need for the law and provided an answer to critics’ question on why the measure had to be enacted at this time.
The law is facing a slew of legal challenges in the Supreme Court.
“But to the critics, I dare ask this question: ‘With the recent Jolo bombing, have you not realized that terrorism is indeed in our midst, with its clear, imminent and present danger, ready to devour anyone in its path?” Dela Rosa said in a privilege speech.
He asked if they were more concerned about the “imagined threat” of the government using the law against critics, or the “real, clear and present danger” seen in the mangled bodies of soldiers, policemen and civilians.
Dela Rosa also said the bombing in Jolo might not have happened had the police not killed the four Army intelligence officers who were looking for two female suicide bombers in Jolo.
Despite the declaration of martial law in the island group in 2017, Mindanao had been the site of several bombings, including the twin blasts that hit Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo.
The Islamic State jihadi group in Iraq and Syria claimed responsibility for the bombings of the cathedral in 2019. But the authorities initially considered the Abu Sayyaf bandit group as the primary suspect.
—With reports from Nestor Corrales and Reuters
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