MANILA -- Solicitor General Jose Calida on Wednesday said that the one-year extension of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao has factual basis, adding that there is nothing to fear as it does not suspend the operation of the Constitution.
Calida also told Supreme Court (SC) magistrates during the continuation of the oral arguments on the petitions against the extension of martial law in Mindanao that President Rodrigo Duterte has not violated any of the safeguards in the Constitution in his bid to quell terrorism in the Muslim region.
All the petitioners are haunted by the ghost of martial law past. There is no reason for them to feel that way, Calida told the Court.
Calida said the petitioners failed to present facts to overturn the presumption of constitutionality of Resolution of Both Houses No. 4.
He likewise said that the petitioners failed to prove that Congress acted in grave abuse of discretion when it granted the request of President Duterte to extend martial law in Mindanao as well as demonstrated that there was a clear breach of the Constitution in such a move.
Even as the leadership of the Mautes was decimated in Marawi, the rebellion in Mindanao persists as the surviving members of the militant group have not laid down their arms. The violence committed by the other groups such as the BIFF, AKP, ASG, DI Maguid, DI Torayfie is part of the equation, Calida told the high court.
He said these armed groups should not be taken lightly as they are also capable of conducting well-coordinated mass casualty attacks to overthrow the present government and establish an Islamic state or wilayah in Mindanao.
Calida said the New People's Army had also been launching offensive operations and that it had forged a common front with these armed groups to remove the allegiance of Mindanao to the duly-constituted government.
Public safety inevitably requires the extension of the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao. The danger and risks the DAESH-inspired local terrorist groups and the NPAs pose cannot be discounted. The extension of martial law will necessarily address the rebellion being waged by these groups, which launched attacks from areas they control inside Mindanao, he explained.
Calida further argued that none of the petitioners had been able to show proof to dispute the security assessment made by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police showing that rebellion still existed in Mindanao.
He said that this year, rebel groups conducted 43 attacks using improvised explosive devices and kidnappings which resulted in the killing of eight civilians, three of whom were mercilessly beheaded.
"Even as the petitioners have joined cause to dispute the actions of President (Rodrigo) Duterte and Congress, their reasons for disputing the sufficiency of factual basis of the extension appear to be a function of their demographic," Calida said.
"The petitioners bear the burden of proof that the rebellion has been quelled, he added.
Also present during the oral argument on Wednesday was Maj. Gen. Fernando Trinidad, deputy chief of staff for intelligence of the Armed Forces presented data to back the government's position that martial law was still necessary in Mindanao.
Trinidad told the justices that terroristic activities in southern Philippines did not end when the government won the war on the Islamic State-linked Maute Group in Marawi City in October last year.
"The scourge being brought by the communist rebels, the Abu Sayyaf group, and the presence of remnants, protectors, supporters and sympathizers of the DAESH pose a clear and present danger to the national security and hinder the facilitation of rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction efforts in Marawi City and the attainment of peace, stability, economic development and prosperity in Mindanao," he told the High Court.
"Considering the magnitude of scope as well as the presence of rebel groups in Mindanao, public safety remains in danger and the security of Mindanao is at stake. As it is, the AFP is appealing for the extension of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus for one year," the AFP official explained.
48 foreign terrorists in Mindanao
Trinidad bared that foreign terrorists have in fact arrived in Mindanao and are now actively participating in training recruits.
The AFP official said 15 terrorists from Indonesia and Malaysia entered Mindanao last November to join the Daesh-inspired group in Saranggani while 16 other Indonesian terrorists entered Mindanao to provide assistance and training to Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan and Lanao del Sur.
Just earlier this month, he said an Egyptian national profiled as a terrorist was also monitored to have entered southern Philippines.
Trinidad said there were presently about 48 foreign terrorists in Mindanao.
Trinidad said that while the numbers of terrorists had been whittled down, recruitment had boosted their numbers to almost 400, almost the same number that initially attacked Marawi.
The AFP official said the new recruits are undergoing training on marksmanship, urban attacks and production and use of improvised explosive devices.
This figure, he stressed, is almost the same strength" as the groups that attacked Marawi City in May last year.
Trinidad said Isnilon Hapilon and the Maute brothers may have died in battle, but there were new leaders who emerged from the ranks of the terrorist groups - including the founder of Khalifa Islamiya, a Filipino terrorist based in Indonesia and another Filipino terrorist who came from Syria.
The magnitude as well as the presence of rebel groups endangers the public safety, he told the justices.
Calida said the information from the AFP only proved that the extension of martial law in Mindanao had sufficient factual basis as required in the Constitution.
The top government counsel urged the SC to uphold the martial law extension, saying petitioners have failed to present facts to overturn its presumption of constitutionality.
The Court is hearing the oral arguments on the four consolidated petitions against the martial law extension, filed by the congressmen led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman et al; another group led by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, et al; former Commission on Human Rights chair Etta Rosales; and a group led by Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the Constitution.
The oral arguments ended on Wednesday afternoon with all parties ordered to submit their respective memorandum on Jan. 24, Wednesday at 4 p.m. before the case would be submitted for resolution in a 30-day deadline.
Source: Philippine News Agency