Philippine military to censor press and social media under martial law in Mindanao

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte (centre) speaking during a visit to troops, in Iligan city, Mindanao island, southern Philippines, on May 26, 2017.
Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte (centre) speaking during a visit to troops, in Iligan city, Mindanao island, southern Philippines, on May 26, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippine military said on Friday (May 26) it would censor the press and social media to protect "national security" across the southern third of the country that is under martial law, and warned violators would be arrested.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across the southern region of Mindanao on Tuesday (May 23) to combat what he says is the rising threat of Islamic militancy.

"We'll exercise the right to censure," military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla told reporters. In a text message to AFP afterwards, Padilla clarified he meant "censor".

Padilla said at the press conference the censorship would be based on three conditions.

"One, to ensure the safety of lives, second to ensure operational security and ensure the safety of our men in uniform who are fighting, and for other national security considerations," he said.

Padilla specified that social media would be subject to censorship, warning people against posting material that breached the conditions."That's why we are appealing to you now while there's still time, to exercise your common sense," he said.

"If you know that this will harm the public and will not be helpful, better not post it because police might come to your door later on and arrest you."

The martial law declaration in Mindanao, home to about 20 million people, is in response to deadly clashes between militants loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and security forces in a city there.

Duterte has warned he may expand martial law throughout the entire country if he believed the terrorism threat had spread.

Martial law is extremely sensitive in the Philippines because dictator Ferdinand Marcos used it as a tool to remain in power for part of his two-decade rule, which ended with a "People Power" revolution in 1986.

Marcos shut down Congress and heavily censored the media during martial law, while plundering billions of dollars from state coffers and allowing security forces to kill or torture thousand of critics.

Since 1986, the Philippines has endured a chaotic and corrupt brand of democracy, but one with a vibrant press.

Since becoming president last year, Duterte has waged a controversial war on drugs that has claimed thousands of lives.

He has repeatedly threatened critics of the drugs crackdown, while saying he does not care about human rights.

Duterte this month said he would behead opponents of the drug war.

"Don't trust those human rights (critics), if you do, I will cut off both your heads," Duterte said.

He also attracted controversy shortly after winning last year's presidential election when he said corrupt journalists deserved to die.

"Just because you are a journalist, you are not exempted from assassination if you are a son of a bitch," Duterte said then.