Congress votes to extend martial law in Mindanao

MANILA • Philippine lawmakers yesterday voted to extend martial law on the southern island of Mindanao until the end of the year, giving President Rodrigo Duterte extra time to quell a rebellion by militants allied with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

After debating for seven hours, 261 lawmakers agreed to extend military rule in a special session of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The votes represented more than two-thirds of Congress, which has over 300 lawmakers.

Sixteen members of the Senate and 245 from the Lower House voted in favour of the extension until Dec 31.

Only 18 voted against the motion - four senators and 14 members of the House of Representatives.

Mr Duterte had previously imposed a 60-day period of martial law over Mindanao when fighting broke out in Marawi on May 23.

But it was set to expire at midnight yesterday.

Martial law allows the military to establish control, with measures such as curfews, checkpoints and gun control, in a country where civilians are allowed to keep licensed firearms at home.

However, any martial law extensions must be approved by Congress.

The subject remains sensitive in the Philippines, decades after late dictator Ferdinand Marcos put the country under military rule for part of his 20-year term. Thousands of critics, political opponents and communist guerillas were killed, detained or arrested during the period, according to historians.

About a dozen protesters in the gallery interrupted yesterday's hearing, chanting "never again, never again to martial law" before they were escorted out.

A slide presentation accompanying Mr Duterte's request, seen by AFP, compared the Marawi crisis to the ISIS takeover of the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Marawi itself could now become a magnet for foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, it said.

Most of the militant leaders remain at large, the presentation added, while about 90 of the gunmen have slipped past security cordons and may link up with other armed groups in the region to mount similar wide-scale attacks.

A reported released last Friday by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (Ipac) warned that the terrorist network battling Philippine forces in Marawi may be preparing Muslim militants to carry out similar attacks in Asia.

Ipac director Sidney Jones told Reuters: "The risks won't end when the military declares victory (in Marawi)."

The two men heading the Marawi network had also apparently urged militants to attack targets in Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar, South Korea, Japan and China, said Ipac.

They were said to have sent out the message on the Russian-developed social media app Telegram.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 23, 2017, with the headline 'Congress votes to extend martial law in Mindanao'. Print Edition | Subscribe