Duterte seeks to extend martial law in Philippines until Dec 31 as Marawi battle wears on

Philippine troops marching towards the frontline where they are battling militants in Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao, on July 12, 2017.
Philippine troops marching towards the frontline where they are battling militants in Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao, on July 12, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte has asked Congress to extend till Dec 31 martial rule over the insurgency-wracked ​southern Philippines, saying a "rebellion" that began when Muslim militants seized Marawi ​C​ity ​​two months ago "will not be quelled completely" till at least year’s end.

In a statement read by his spokesman, Mr Duterte said "public safety requires that I call upon Congress to extend till Dec 31, or for such period of time Congress may determine, the proclamation of martial law… in the whole of Mindanao".

He said he was acting on recommendations he received from the military and the police.

Congress is scheduled to hold a special session on Saturday (July 22) to decide on what Mr Duterte is asking. Mr Ernesto Abella, the spokesman, said lawmakers may opt to shorten the period. But that is unlikely, as Congress is controlled by Mr Duterte’s allies, and even many in the opposition agree with the president’s assessment of the threats in Mindanao.

Asked why five more months are needed to deal with the Marawi situation, Mr Abella replied that Mr Duterte "has his own source of information that prompted him to come to this conclusion".

 

Mr Abella said Mr Duterte is aware that there are "certain forces" operating beyond Marawi’s borders that could destabilise the rest of Mindanao.

“There are no direct references to new forces, except that...there’s a unique situation in Mindanao. There’s a looming situation in Mindanao that needs to be totally and completely addressed,” he said.

He added: "It’s a Mindanao-wide situation."

Mr Abella also said Mr Duterte "not being reactive, but proactive, regarding the declaration of martial law".

Mr Duterte imposed military rule for 60 days in Mindanao, home to 20 million people, on May 23 when gunmen waving black flags of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) occupied Marawi, triggering clashes that have killed more than 500 people.

But with scores of militants holding out against government forces, Mr Duterte met with lawmakers late on Monday (July 17) and asked them to extend the law when it lapses on Saturday (July 22).

The country's Constitution allows the president to impose martial law for up to 60 days, enabling him to "call out the armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion".

In May, Mr Duterte said he had made the move to stamp out an attempt by militants, including foreign fighters, to establish an ISIS caliphate on Philippine territory.

"He also explained clearly his fear that terrorism might slowly spread throughout Mindanao and eventually the country," Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who attended the meeting with Mr Duterte on Monday, told Agence France-Presse.

Mr Duterte told the legislators 600 buildings had yet to be cleared of bombs or armed men, according to Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito. Security forces have been conducting a US-backed offensive to root out the gunmen, using airstrikes and artillery fire.

On Tuesday, US Ambassador to Manila Sung Kim said his government would give the Philippine military two Cessna planes to be used in Marawi.

"We are deeply concerned about the security situation in Marawi," Kim told ABS-CBN television.

"The Marawi situation is clearly a very difficult situation for the Philippines so we are going to do everything possible to support the (armed forces)."

With additional reports from Agence France-Presse