Martial law in Mindanao extended until end-2018

MANILA • Philippine lawmakers yesterday overwhelmingly backed President Rodrigo Duterte's plan to extend martial law for all of next year in Mindanao, an island he called a "flashpoint for trouble" and atrocities by Islamist and communist rebels.

The extension, until Dec 31 next year, would mark the longest period of martial law since the 1970s era of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, one of the darkest and most oppressive chapters of the country's recent history.

At a joint session of Congress, 240 out of 267 lawmakers agreed with Mr Duterte on the need for tough measures to stop militants recruiting and preparing a new wave of attacks after occupying Marawi City for five months this year.

Mr Duterte thanked Congress for its support and said the communist New People's Army and militants loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) were equally threatening. "There is a need for me to come up with something, otherwise Mindanao will blow apart," he said.

The government worries that mountainous, jungle-clad Mindanao, which is home to the country's Muslim minority, could attract international extremists.

The Marawi City assault was the Philippines' biggest security crisis in decades, killing more than 1,100 people, mostly militants. The armed forces took 154 days to win the battle, and 185 extremists are estimated to still be at large.

Mr Duterte enjoys massive public support, but his frequent threats to expand martial law are contentious in a country that suffered nine years of oppression under Marcos.

Mr Duterte's opponents lament his authoritarian streak and speculate that his end-game is to emulate Marcos by declaring martial law nationwide, as he has threatened.

Asked several times yesterday if he was prepared to go that far, Mr Duterte said: "It depends on the enemies of the state."

Minority lawmakers said the extension of martial law was illegal because Mr Duterte had cited security threats, rather than rebellion or invasion, the conditions under which martial law can be invoked.

In his request to Congress on Monday, Mr Duterte argued that a little-known operative active in Mindanao, Abu Turaifie, was "said to be" ISIS' potential point man in South-east Asia.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2017, with the headline 'Martial law in Mindanao extended until end-2018'. Print Edition | Subscribe