MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday (May 24) martial law in the southern region of Mindanao could last a year, as he vowed it would be similar to the late Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship.
“If it would take a year to do it, if it’s over within a month, then I’d be happy,” Duterte said in a video posted online by the government.
President Duterte declared martial law on Tuesday across the southern third of the country, after deadly clashes between security forces and Islamic State (IS/ISIS) group-linked militants in a major city.
The announcement, made by his spokesman at a press conference in Moscow where Duterte was on an official visit, fulfills an often-repeated warning by the president that he would enforce military rule to quell security threats.
Duterte placed all of the southern region of Mindanao, which makes up roughly one third of the country and is home to 20 million people, under martial law, spokesman Ernesto Abella said in the nationally televised briefing
He said martial law would be in place for 60 days, in line with constitutional limits on the use of military rule. Duterte has warned repeatedly that Mindanao, an impoverished, restive region the size of South Korea, was at risk of “contamination” by Islamic State fighters driven out of Iraq and Syria.
“Our country needs modern weapons … to fight against the Islamic State group we need weapons,” Duterte said in Moscow.
SECURITY FORCES BATTLE MILITANTS
The announcement of martial law came after security forces battled dozens of IS-linked gunmen in a Marawi, a city of about 200,000 people in Mindanao, on Tuesday. Marawi is about 800km south of Manila, the nation’s capital.
Brigadier General Rolando Bautista, commander of the Philippines’ First Infantry Division, said security forces were trying to locate militants who had scattered everywhere and were blocking reinforcements from arriving.
“There are more or less 100, divided into groups of 10 in different locations,” Bautista told news channel ANC.
“Since they are advocating ISIS ideology they have to show ISIS that they are a force to be reckoned with.”
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said one policeman and two soldiers were killed in the clashes, which began when security forces raided a house where they believed Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the infamous Abu Sayyaf kidnap gang and Philippine head of IS, was hiding.
Photos posted on social media by residents showed the gunmen walking through the streets of Marawi and placing a black flag that looked similar to those used by IS.
The purpose of Tuesday’s raid was to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf group which is notorious for piracy and for kidnapping and beheading Westerners. The US State Department has offered a bounty of up to US$5 million for Hapilon’s arrest.
Lorenzana said the gunmen, who were believed to number more than 100, had occupied a hospital and a jail, and burnt down a buildings including a Catholic Church.
He said many were hiding in buildings as snipers, making it difficult for security forces to combat them.
The Abu Sayyaf, based on the most southern islands of Mindanao, has kidnapped hundreds of Filipinos and foreigners since the early 1990s to extract ransoms. The United States lists it as a terrorist organisation.
Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded an elderly German man early this year and two Canadians last year after ransom demands for many millions of dollars were not met.
Martial law is particularly sensitive in the Philippines because it was used by dictator Ferdinand Marcos to remain in power during his two-decade reign, which ended in 1986 with a “People Power” revolution.
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