From Malaya Business Insight (Jul 21): Duterte visits Marawi as AFP braces for attacks
GOVERNMENT forces are keeping their guard up amid President Duterte’s revelation that the Maute and the Abu Sayyaf groups are planning attacks in Basilan province and in the cities of Cagayan de Oro, General Santos and Zamboanga.
“With or without that pronouncement from the President, we are and we have always been putting our guards up especially in these areas,” AFP public affairs chief Col Edgard Arevalo told a press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo.
Duterte, clad in military battle attire, visited government forces involved in the fight against the Maute, accompanied by top security officials. He arrived aboard a helicopter in Camp Ranao, headquarters of the 103rd Brigade in Marawi City, after lunch and left four hours later.
AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año said Duterte visited “amidst the sound of gun and artillery fires on the background.”
He also said the visit was “very successful and memorable” for the troops but it “was not easy.”
“Just a minute before the choppers landed, there were few sniper shots coming from unknown directions that targeted the landing zone area,” said Año.
A military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said gunshots can be heard at the camp during the visit, from the main battle area which is about 1 to 1.5 kilometers away.
“In fact, a sniper bullet (from the enemy) landed at the camp before his (Duterte’s) aircraft landed… A sniper bullet landed at an adjacent area, that’s normal – a stray sniper bullet landing at the camp,” the official said.
AFP public affairs chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said the visit was a “great morale boost for our troops engaged in he fight against terrorism.”
Arevalo also said the President set foot in Marawi as troops assaulted a Maute position near the Mapandi Bridge.
Duterte was accompanied by top security officials, including Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon, AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año, and AFP Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez.
In requesting an extension of martial law he imposed in Mindanao, Duterte revealed that the two groups which attacked Marawi City on May 23 are planning attacks in the four areas. The disclosure was contained in a July 18 letter to Congress, which also requested a special session to tackle his proposed martial law extension.
The martial law period ends on July 22, the same Congress is holding a special session. Duterte wants an extension of up to December 31.
The conflict in Marawi has so far resulted in the death of 421 Maute members, 99 soldiers and policemen, and 45 civilians. At least 1,700 civilians have been rescued and 516 enemy firearms recovered.
Arevalo said the military has intensified intelligence operations and an exchange of intelligence information with other agencies to preempt any possible attack.
Arevalo asked the cooperation of the public in preempting attacks, saying soldiers and policemen “cannot be in all places all the time.”
Asked if the information about the planned attacks came from the Armed Forces, Arevalo said: “I cannot tell you right now… But suffice to say that it’s within the realm of the possible because of the violence still happening in Marawi.”
Arevalo said the President receives information and data from agencies other than the Armed Forces.
Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesman of the 1st Infantry Division, said Duterte was given a briefing on the ongoing operations shortly after his arrival. He later inspected Maute firearms recovered by soldiers.
Herrera said Duterte also addressed soldiers and policemen who were gathered inside the camp, and gave them goods and G-shock watches.
“He showed bravery, strong support for those who are fighting in Marawi… He had an intimate engagement with our soldiers and policemen… We know that the President is close to soldiers and this boosted the fighting spirit of our soldiers. He is really very supportive of our campaign,” said Herrera.
Herrera said Duterte thanked the soldiers involved in the ongoing efforts to liberate the city from the Maute Group despite the challenges that they are facing.
“He was here to thank, inspire our troops in our campaign against terrorism… They’re happy, our soldiers, policemen, are happy. They’re eager to so see our commander-in-chief, the President,” said Herrera.
Herrera said the President has attempted to visit Marawi City in the past but bad weather had prevented him from doing so.
Senate President pro tempore Ralph Recto urged President Duterte to declassify the intelligence information he used as basis in asking for an extension of martial law.
“What has been shared to 23 senators and almost 300 congressmen should be shared to the public as well. There’s no harm in such a disclosure, provided it has been purged of its sensitive contents,” he said.
Liberal Party lawmakers said they would closely scrutinize the justifications presented by security officials during a joint session on Monday.
“Why does Mindanao need to be placed under martial law for five more months? What are the objectives? What powers does the President want to exercise during this period under martial law that is distinct from the powers granted to him by law and the Constitution?” LP lawmakers said in a statement.
They would also ask what the President hopes to accomplish if his request is granted.
MANNER OF VOTING
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Senate leaders should “raise the question on voting jointly” before Congress holds joint session to tackle the President’s request.
Lacson pointed out that under the bicameral system, the 24-member Senate is rendered irrelevant against the House of Representatives which has 297 members.
Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution states that “Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its members in regular or special session,” may revoke the President’s martial law proclamation or suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
“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,” it further says.
Minority leader Franklin Drilon said it would be “difficult to argue separate voting, much as we prefer it that way.”
House majority leader Rodolfo Fariñas said House leaders will discuss how they will vote on the martial law extension with senators in a private meeting before joint session on Saturday “so as not to ruffle anyone’s feathers” since Senators Lacson and Richard Gordon prefer separate voting.
Fariñas said each House will have to adopt a set of rules for the joint session before they convene as one.
“(It will be done in the) same way our rules are approved. The rules committee of each House initially approves it (rules), (and) then have it approved by the plenary,” he said. “(It’s) hard to give time estimates as this will be a joint session with two sets of presiding officers, majority and minority leaders, and memberships, who will have the floor alternately.”