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When enemy strength drops to 30%, military to recommend lifting martial law

The military will recommend the lifting of martial law in Mindanao when the overall strength of its enemies drops to 30 percent, the chief of the Armed Forces told the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

During oral arguments on the third extension of military rule in the region, AFP chief Lieutenant General Benjamin Madrigal Jr. said a reduction of enemy strength by 70 percent will lower the situation to a level that can be addressed by the police without the military.

Enemy strength refers to the number of troops, the groups' firearms, and their support system, including those from barangays, Madrigal said.

"We will gladly recommend the lifting of martial law if we attain that,"  Madrigal told Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza.

Jardeleza referenced an undated letter by former AFP chief Carlito Galvez Jr. that said local terrorist groups' manpower and firepower have been reduced to 62 percent and 45 percent, respectively, while that of communist rebels have decreased by 31 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

When asked about the baseline, Madrigal said the military will recommend the lifting of martial law if the 30-percent target is met by this year. The government was ordered to discuss the baseline in its memorandum, or summary of arguments, due February 4.

The government claims the extension of martial law in Mindanao to the end of 2019 is justified because of continued hostilities allegedly perpetrated by terrorist groups and communist rebels there. Its position is being challenged by opposition lawmakers, lawyers and Mindanaoans before the High Court.

For his part, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen asked Solicitor General Jose Calida, the lawyer for the government, about the possibility of extending martial law until the end of President Rodrigo Duterte's term, depending on when the 30-percent target is reached.

"More importantly, this 30 percent, was it discussed with Congress? In other words, it was in one of the statements of Lorenzana, the secretary, but Congress did not push and ask the resource speakers what was the goal of one year," Leonen said. Calida said it was correct.

"It's possible to have an extension for 2020...perhaps even 2021, correct? Perhaps 2022, correct? So this is the new normal -- that for the whole term of this president, there will be martial law in Mindanao, is that not possible?" Leonen said.

Calida said it depends on whether or not the 30-percent degradation target can be attained.

The solicitor general also admitted he only learned about the target, which he considers the government position, during the oral arguments, when Jardeleza discussed it with Madrigal. —LDF, GMA News