A national emergency remains in effect throughout the Philippines, the government clarified Friday, after it lifted martial law in southern Mindanao island at the end of 2019.
Shortly after taking office in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte proclaimed a state of emergency across the nation.
“Proclamation No. 55 issued by the president on Sept. 4, 2016, which declared a state of national emergency on account of lawless violence, is still in effect despite the expiry of martial law in Mindanao in December,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
Duterte allowed martial law to expire in the south on Dec. 31, in response to recommendations from police and military officials, according to Panelo.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the president issued the state of emergency directive days after a night market was bombed in Davao City, his hometown in the south. That attack, claimed by Islamic State (IS) militants, killed 14 people and injured dozens of others.
“Our operations will continue but there may be less [operations] in areas where security situation has improved. We need to continue doing this, especially in areas where there are incidents of terrorist violence,” Arevalo said.
“If our enemies see that we have become relaxed in terms of security, they may slip through again,” he said.
Duterte declared martial law or military rule in southern Mindanao island in 2017 to defeat IS-linked militants who took over the city of Marawi in May of that year. The militants were chased out after a five-month battle with government forces that left the city in ruins, but foreign militants are thought to have escaped.
Government officials have said that an Indonesian couple with ties to Abu Sayyaf – an IS-linked Philippine militant group – blew themselves up in January 2019 during a suicide attack a church on southern Jolo island that killed more than 20 people.
The constitution empowers the president, as commander in chief, to declare a national emergency and allow state forces to carry out warrantless arrests, according to Panelo. He said the proclamation was specifically called to suppress “lawless violence” in the south and to prevent it from spreading to other parts of the country.
Panelo emphasized that “it cannot be subjected to judicial review unless constitutional boundaries are violated.”
“Therefore, as long as the president deems it necessary to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion, then he is lawfully authorized to resort to this calling out of power,” he said.
Panelo said the state of emergency remained in place as the nation faces a communist insurgency and the possibility of a terrorist organization re-establishing itself.
Meanwhile in Marawi, Drieza Lininding, chairman of the Moro Consensus Group, said life had not returned to normal in the city. The group has been described as young professionals, civil society organizations leaders, academicians and students who seek to compliment negotiations between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front and Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
“We thought that after the lifting of martial law, we could regain our normal life with less restrictions and fears, but unfortunately we were told that the lockdown from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. in Marawi and Lanao del Sur for the past two years is still in place,” he said.
“I am aware that some of the perpetrators were already arrested and suspects named. We have nothing against the proclamation or extensive coordination among government security forces to suppress lawlessness and violence,” he said.
“But what we don’t understand is why a place like Marawi, where more than half of its residents are displaced, needs the lockdown? Half of our city is a ghost area.”
Zia Alonto Adiong, a Muslim official in Marawi, said that while the state of emergency remained in effect, security forces could establish checkpoints to respond to the threats.
“Of course, if you have a business, you would not invest in an area without a stable peace-and-order situation,” he said.