President Rodrigo Duterte has asked Congress to extend martial rule in the insurgency-racked southern third of the Philippines, saying a "rebellion" there that began when Islamist militants stormed Marawi city two months ago "will not be quelled completely" till the year end.
In a letter to Congress read by his spokesman, Mr Ernesto Abella, yesterday, 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 from his defence secretary, the military and the police.
General Eduardo Ano, the military chief, said five months would be "enough for us to do our job and finish the job". He added that he might even recommend that Mr Duterte lift martial law before Dec 31, but that this meant a "degradation" of terrorist acts in Mindanao, not just an end to the Marawi siege.
Asked why five more months are needed to deal with the Marawi situation, Mr Abella told reporters that Mr Duterte "has his own source of information that prompted him to come to this conclusion". He said Mr Duterte is aware that there are "certain forces" operating beyond Marawi's borders that could destabilise the rest of Mindanao.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to contain the spread of radical Islamist ideas, Mr Duterte offered self-rule to the Philippines' Muslim minority on Monday.
The President vowed to shepherd through Congress a "Bangsamoro Basic Law" jointly written and submitted to him by government officials and the country's largest Muslim guerilla group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. He hopes the promise of autonomy will dissuade Filipino Muslims from joining terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Mr Duterte imposed military rule for 60 days in Mindanao, home to 20 million people, on May 23 when gunmen waving black flags of ISIS occupied Marawi, triggering clashes that have killed more than 500 people.
But with scores of militants still holding out against government forces, Mr Duterte met lawmakers late on Monday and asked them to extend the law when it lapses on Saturday.
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".
Congress is scheduled to hold a special session on Saturday to decide on what Mr Duterte is asking.
Critics raised their concern about extending the martial law. "This is not only a step back, but several steps back for our democracy," said opposition lawmaker and prominent martial law critic Edcel Lagman, calling Mr Duterte's request unconstitutional.
Senator Antonio Trillanes said extending martial rule in Mindanao for five months is "a whimsical misuse of power".
Even Mr Duterte's allies in Congress expressed concerns.
Representative Harry Roque said "prolonged imposition is normalisation of an abnormal situation. It means making a crisis near permanent, which raises questions on the ability of the government to effectively address it".
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto said while it would be easy to justify a 60-day extension, "it will be harder to explain (to the public) if it is longer".
But Senate President Aquilino Pimentel said Congress would likely grant Mr Duterte's request. "He has an objective he wants to achieve. He said: 'I need "x" more days to achieve that objective.' So, who are we to say: 'No, no, no. You don't need that longer period of time'?"