Philippines: Duterte Asks Congress to Expand Martial Law

Richel V. Umel and Mark Navales
Iligan and Cotabato, Philippines
171211-PH-martial-620.jpg Protesters in Manila denounce President Rodrigo Duterte for seeking to extend martial law, prolonging the war on drugs and cracking down on activists who call for his removal from office, Dec. 8, 2017.

President Rodrigo Duterte officially asked Congress to expand military rule in the southern Philippines, saying his government needed more time to fight Islamic State-linked extremist groups despite defeating a militant faction in Marawi, his spokesman said Monday.

The president transmitted a letter with the request on Friday, but announced it publicly three days later. He wrote that while the armed forces officially ended the siege of IS-linked militants in Marawi, troops needed more time to “ensure total eradication” of the armed groups from the south.

“We are hopeful that Congress would see the need for further extension of martial law as explained in PRRD’s [President Rodrigo Duterte’s] official communication to finally put an end to the ongoing rebellion in Mindanao,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

“Public safety after all is our primordial concern. We must unite against these evil forces,” he said.

If approved, martial law also would cover communist guerrillas in the region. Last week, Duterte declared the Communist Party of the Philippines and its rebel wing, the New People’s Army, as terrorist organizations after he had canceled peace negotiations with them.

Duterte’s letter said the military would use the legal cover to crush “like minded local or foreign terrorist groups and armed lawless groups and communist terrorists and their coddler, supporters and finances.”

In response, at least one congressman questioned the necessity of extending martial law in the south since Marawi was officially declared liberated on Oct. 23.

IS fanning out across Mindanao

The military said it had monitored IS-linked forces fanning out across the mostly impoverished southern island of Mindanao in their recruitment and radicalization activities. Of particular concern are the areas of Maguindanao and North Cotabato in central Mindanao, as well as the islands of Basilan and Jolo to the south, it said.

Many areas in these provinces have been considered prime recruitment grounds for the militants, military officials said.

“These activities are geared toward the conduct of intensified atrocities and armed public uprisings in support of their objective of establishing the foundation of a global Islamic caliphate and of a wilayat (division) not only in the Philippines but also in the whole of Southeast Asia,” Duterte said.

He noted that the death of the Abu Sayyaf Group’s Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged leader of the IS in Southeast Asia, did not ensure that the movement had died with him.

Instead Duterte identified Abu Turaipe – a former separatist guerrilla leader from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – as the likely successor. Turaipe broke away from the MILF after the group signed a peace deal with Manila in 2014 and dropped its fight for a separate state in favor of expanded autonomy.

Since August, the military has been engaged in low-intensity fighting with Turaipe’s group in marshland areas in Maguindanao. Initially, Turaipe’s band was dismissed as a small group of bandits until its members pledged allegiance to IS last year.

Duterte said Turaipe’s group was now “planning to conduct bombings.”

In all probability, the remnants of the group who engaged the military in a fierce battle that lasted five months in Marawi “are presently regrouping and consolidating their forces,” Duterte said.

‘Dangerous precedent’

Rights groups have questioned Duterte’s order, warning that he was setting the stage for eventual declaration of military rule across the entire democratic country.

“This is a dangerous precedent that inches the entire country closer to a nationwide declaration of martial rule,” said Cristina Palabay, of the rights group Karapatan.

“Martial law in Mindanao has paved the way for the intensification of rights violations – both within and outside of Marawi. We cannot expect the institution to benefit most from another year of martial law to decide against it,” she said.

She warned that should the measure pass in Congress, it would be a step toward a whole nation declaration allowing rights violations would continue.

Rep. Edcel Lagman, an opposition member at the House of Representatives, said martial law can be extended only in case of invasion or rebellion or when public safety requires it.

“There is no more factual basis for the extension of martial law in Mindanao after President Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi City from rebels and terrorists almost two months ago, and government combat forces had been withdrawn,” Lagman said.

He said that Duterte’s argument that he wanted an extension to “contain continuing threats by terrorists” was no longer valid because when Marawi was declared free, the government virtually admitted that it had defeated the threat.

Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.


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