Lawmakers see failure of intelligence in Marawi attack

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Senator Panfilo Lacson, and leaders of the House of Representatives minority bloc see a failure of intelligence in the Marawi attack that prompted the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

Recto, in a text message, said "it is highly probable, well, for obvious reasons."

Lacson questioned how the armed Maute Group was able to enter the area while police operations were ongoing against Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.

Asked about a possible failure of intelligence, the senator said: "You can call it that. Kasi papaano nakapasok ang ganoon karaming armed group [members], tapos at the time when the PNP was conducting operations against Hapilon (Because how come the armed group's members were able to enter when the PNP was conducting operations against Hapilon)?"

The fatal Mamasapano incident in 2015 should have served as a lesson to authorities, Lacson also said.

"Kailangan we should have learned our lesson from Mamasapano. Pati pag-extricate kasama sa plano, pati cover, ang buffer, lahat 'yan. (We should have learned our lesson from Mamasapano, including extricating those who are part of the plan, covering, buffering, everything.) But why did it happen again?" he added.

House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez also questioned why authorities were unable to track the Maute Group and prevent it from attacking.

"This is an intelligence failure. Nasaan 'yung intelligence ano natin, 'yung PNP (Philippine National Police) and Armed Forces? Bakit hindi 'nyo nakita ito? Napakaliit na grupo nitong Maute. Dapat by this time track na track na ninyo," said the Quezon 3rd District Representative.

(This is an intelligence failure. Where are the PNP and the Armed Forces? Why didn't they foresee this? The Maute Group is just small. They should have been tracking them already.)

House Deputy Minority Leader Alfredo Garbin Jr said it seems that the Philippine government and security forces had no clue, since even top defense officials were with President Rodrigo Duterte in Russia.

"Considering the fact that all of the heads – the secretary of national defense ... nando'n yata lahat sa Russia so there's [a] failure of intelligence. Mukhang 'di nila alam kung ano'ng mangyayari sa Mindanao," said the AKO Bicol Representative.

(Considering the fact that all of the heads – the secretary of national defense ... were all there in Russia, so there's a failure of intelligence. It seems they had no idea what would happen in Mindanao.)

'Failure of coordination'

But Senator Gregorio Honasan II, former military officer and now the chairman of the Senate oversight committee on intelligence funds, said it was a "failure of coordination."

"This is our failure of our ability to coordinate, 'yan dahilan parati (that's always the reason). Siguro 'yung nakakakita na may armadong grupo, [na] may nangyayari na hindi kaagad nag-report (Maybe those who already saw that there was an armed group or that something was happening did not report to authorities immediately.) That's what we need to improve, enhance," Honasan said.

He added that local government units (LGUs) have a central role to play because they are the "convergence points."

"Ang pinakaabusado na dahilan ay failure of intelligence, sisisihin na naman natin military at police but we must understand that local government units are the convergence points for this. 'Yung intel nanggagaling sa barangay, eskinita, kalsada. We need to harness [our] information-gathering capability," Honasan said.

(The most abused reason is failure of intelligence. We would again blame the military and the police but we must understand that local government units are the convergence points for this. The intel comes from the barangays, alleys, roads. We need to harness our information-gathering capability.)

He added: "Kung 'yung pinakamakapangyarihang bansa nasisingitan, tayo pa?" (If even powerful nations are victimized by terrorists, how much more us?)

Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, an ally of the President, echoed the crucial role of LGUs, saying some officials may even be cooperating with the Maute Group.

"Siguro meron siyang (Duterte) nakikita na iilang miyembro ng LGU na medyo kasabawat dito. It's unfortunate to say this but 'yan ang katotohanan. Hindi naman makakalusot sa mga barangay na hindi alam ng mga kapitan sa mga barangay at hindi alam ng mga members ng LGU," said Zubiri.

(Maybe Duterte saw that some LGU members are involved in the incident. It's unfortunate to say this but that's the truth. The terrorists can't pass through barangays if the village chiefs and other LGU members don't know about it.)

Explanation needed

Both Lacson and Zubiri want authorities to explain what truly happened.

"But why did it happen again? But hazy pa ang reports (But the reports are still hazy). We really need to find out what actually happened before we give judgment," Lacson said.

"That's a start. Kailangan nila magpaliwanag bakit nangyari ito (They need to explain why this happened)," Zubiri said, adding that officials should explain to the Select Oversight Committee on Intelligence and Confidential Funds.

After the twin bombings in Quiapo last May 6, the Senate created the oversight panel to look into the use of the President's intelligence funds, which rose by 400% to P2.5 billion in 2017 from P500 million the previous year.

On Tuesday, Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao following the Marawi attack.

Section 18, Article VII of the 1987 Philippine Constitution says that the President, as commander-in-chief, may "in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it" suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the country under martial law. The writ safeguards individual freedom against arbitrary state action.

Crafted after the EDSA People Power Revolution that ousted the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the 1987 Constitution highlights the role of other branches of government in the martial law declaration. The provisions are meant precisely to prevent grave abuse and stop another Marcos from tinkering with civil rights.

Thus within 48 hours after the martial law declaration, the President shall submit a report "in person or in writing" to Congress. The declaration can also be revoked via a vote by Congress, now controlled by Duterte allies.

The Supreme Court may review the basis of its declaration. (READ: Martial Law 101: Things you should know) – with reports from Mara Cepeda / Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.

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