THE military yesterday said 48 foreign terrorists are operating in Mindanao, training new recruits.
Maj. Gen. Fernando Trinidad, AFP deputy chief of staff for intelligence, made the statement at the resumption of oral arguments at the Supreme Court, on consolidated petitions against the extension of martial law in Mindanao.
Trinidad said that in November last year, 15 terrorists from Indonesia and Malaysia entered Mindanao to assist terrorist groups in Sarangani while 16 more Indonesian terrorists provided assistance and training to the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan and to the Maute Group in Lanao del Sur. Just this month, an Egyptian was also monitored to have entered the region, he said.
Trinidad said that while the number of terrorists has been reduced, recruitment activities have boosted their number to almost 400, “almost the same number that initially attacked Marawi.”
“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 is for the extension of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus for one year,” Trinidad said adding that these terrorist groups are training their members in bomb-making, urban warfare tactics and other operations.
President Duterte declared martial law in the entire Mindanao on May 23 last year, hours after the terrorist Maute Group attacked Marawi City. The 60-day martial law was first extended up to Dec. 31, 2017. Duterte asked for another extension, saying terrorist groups are conducting recruitment activities and regrouping since government forces ended the Marawi conflict in October last year. He also cited as reason for the extension attacks by the communist New People’s Army. Opposition lawmakers have said the second extension is illegal because there is no rebellion or invasion.
Solicitor General Jose Calida, during oral arguments, said none of the petitioners against the extension can dispute the security assessment made by the military and the police showing there is still rebellion in Mindanao.
Calida said, “Even as the leadership of the Maute 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… is part of the equation.”
Calida assured the public Duterte will not place the entire country under martial law even if the communist insurgency has presence in various provinces outside of Mindanao.
“I’ve known the President for a long time and I believe he will not impose martial law in the entire Philippines since his concern is Mindanao,” Calida told Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio though he conceded that in the realm of possibilities, it is possible.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero said martial law has given the military enhanced authority to go after armed groups.
Asked by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno why there is a need for martial law, he said, “There is a deeper problem that must be addressed, multi-dimensional and it enhances a climate that is safe and secure.”
Replying to a question from Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro on the one-year period, Guerrero said, “it is based on our calculations, estimates of the capabilities of enemies and our own capabilities.”
But the AFP chief admitted under interpellation by Associate Justice Samuel Martires that it is a “very ambitious target” to address the problems in Mindanao within a year.