Esperon says no need to extend martial law if Human Security Act is amended

MANILA, Philippines – Extending martial law in Mindanao for the fourth time may no longer be necessary if the Philippines' anti-terrorism law or the Human Security Act is amended.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr took this position on the possible fourth extension of martial law in the southern island during a press conference at the Malacañang's New Executive Building on Friday, October 25.

"We are looking at some developments that can give some guidance to us. If the Human Security Act as amended will be passed then we may not need to ask for extension of martial law. We may not need any martial law of this kind," Esperon said.

The martial law declaration in Mindanao has been in effect since local terrorists tried to occupy Marawi City in 2017. Since then, it has been extended thrice, with opposition lawmakers in Congress repeatedly questioning the need for the extension. If not extended again, it will lapse on December 31.

Why amend the Human Security Act? Security officials have repeatedly criticized the country's anti-terrorism law as one of the weakest among countries that face the same threat.

Along with Esperon, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and other security officials have been lobbying to amend the Human Security Act, saying its current provisions constrain them from going after terror suspects.

These include the current 3-day period allowed by the law to detain terror suspects without an arrest warrant from a judicial court. Security officials want the law amended to allow for detention periods of 30 to 60 days, and longer surveillance periods.

Besides the short time allowed for warrantless detention, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) earlier complained of the P500,000 in damages security agencies are ordered to pay for every day that they detained a suspect who ends up acquitted of terror charges.

"It's (provisions) so unfriendly so it is a disincentive to law enforcement.... We can ask for that extension, or if we have that amended Human Security Act, that is a better tool for us," Esperon said.

Other factors considered: Aside from this, Esperon said security officials are also considering the opinion of local government units and officials in assessing whether another extension of martial law is needed.

The former military chief earlier said he was open to lifting martial law in some parts of Mindanao like Davao City. Its mayor, presidential daughter Sara Duterte, has said she wants military rule lifted in her city.

"If local government units say we don't need it anymore then we will take that into consideration," he said.

Like Esperon, Lorenzana earlier said there may be no need to extend martial law if Congress passes the amendments to the Human Security Act. The AFP also said it supported "selective martial law" in the southern island. Other security officials have yet to give their recommendations on the matter. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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