November 21, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Police recommends martial law extension; Defense chief keeps his cards

THE HEAD of the police force confirmed yesterday that he has recommended to President Rodrigo R. Duterte an extension of the 60-day martial law period in Mindanao, primarily to round up “narcopoliticians” who are believed to be financially supporting the local terror group Maute.

“Number one (reason) are the identified narcopoliticians, who we believe to be supporting the cause of the Maute group, [and are] still at large. We still have to account [for] them. We’ll arrest them first,” Philippine National Police (PNP) Director-General Ronald M. dela Rosa said.

Mr. Dela Rosa also clarified earlier reports that he suggested a 60-day extension.

“We didn’t give a time frame. It’s up to the President until when does he want for it to be extended,” he said.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana said the military, for its part, has also submitted its recommendation on July 13, but declined to give their position so “as not to preempt the President.”

“I fully trust the President’s judgment on this whether he considers my recommendations or not,” Mr. Lorenzana said.

Mr. Duterte declared martial law over the entire Mindanao on May 23, the day the Maute group launched a rampage in Marawi City. The Islamic State-inspired group continues to hold ground in some parts of the city and the battle with government forces has so far left more than 500 people dead, among them 45 civilians, 97 soldiers, and 405 terrorists.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto C. Abella, for his part, also said on Monday that Mr. Duterte is already set to study the recommendations.

“As we all know, the President listens and he considers the position, not only of the military and of the police but also the interest of vital stakeholders,” he said, adding that the basis of Mr. Duterte’s decision would be “the threat to public safety, especially in concerned areas.”

Opposition lawmakers have previously pointed out that under the Constitution, only Congress has the authority to approve a martial law extension, for which the President must submit a request.

Mr. Lorenzana also challenged groups and individuals alleging that there are unreported cases of human rights abuses under martial law to file appropriate charges in courts.

“If indeed some of our soldiers are found guilty of committing excesses under martial law, then we will not hesitate to administer the appropriate sanctions against these individuals, while ensuring that due process is followed,” Mr. Lorenzana said in a press statement.

“We will never allow anyone within the defense and security establishments to tarnish the good image and reputation that we have painstakingly built over the years,” he said.

“As an added measure to prevent any potential excesses or mishandling by our forces, we have actually deployed AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) human rights officers and lawyers on the ground to help guide our soldiers in performing their expanded duties and responsibilities under martial law,” he added.

The Defense chief also affirmed that his “trust and confidence in the professionalism and integrity of the Armed Forces, however, remains strong,” amid allegations. -- Jil Danielle M. Caro