Philippine Defense Chief Hints at Extension of Martial Law in South

Jeoffrey Maitem and Froilan Gallardo
Marawi, Philippines
170711-PH-martial-620.jpg A naval gunner scans the horizon as Philippine troops patrol a lake in the southern city of Marawi to prevent Islamic State-linked gunmen from escaping, July 11, 2017.
Richel V. Umel/BenarNews

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana hinted Tuesday that military rule covering the southern Philippines would be extended beyond the initial two months prescribed by law, as the government struggles to defeat Islamic State-inspired militants who are entrenched in Marawi city.

Lorenzana, who is the martial law administrator, told reporters that military rule was an extraordinary power granted by the Philippine constitution to the president, and by itself was no absolute.

There are “prescribed limitations” to prevent it from being abused, he said.

The constitution allows an initial period of 60 days for the declaration of martial law, with the president expected to submit a written report to Congress, which could later vote on extending the measure.

Rights groups have questioned the martial law measure at the Supreme Court, which, however, voted last week to uphold its legality.

A majority of the 15 justices voted for martial law, with the ruling serving to underscore the government’s argument that there was a “real and present rebellion” going on in Marawi that needed to be addressed.

Martial law is expected to end on July 23, a day before President Rodrigo Duterte appears before Congress for his annual state-of-the-nation address, during which he will likely push for an extension of the measure.

Lorenzana said he would “follow whatever path will be laid out” by Duterte.

“The Filipino people can rest assured, however, that if martial law is extended, they can continue to trust their defense and security establishments since every decision we make and operation we undertake are anchored on the rule of law and respect for human rights,” Lorenzana said.

But critics have questioned an extension of martial law, with former regional legislative assembly member Samira Gutoc Tomawis warning it could only serve to disenfranchise many young Muslims and lead to dissatisfaction.

“Extending martial law is destructive and counter-productive. It will contribute to a cycle of violence,” she said.

She said military rule had definitely curbed illegal firearms and drugs, “but it was not implemented the way it should be.

“No, to martial law extension. We never learn from our history,” she said.

She was apparently referring to the two-decade authoritarian rule of Ferdinand Marcos, who placed the country under military rule on the pretext of battling communist rebellion.

Thousands of people died or went missing and a civilian-backed military uprising ousted Marcos in 1986, sending him and his family into exile in Hawaii, where he died three years later.

Duterte placed the southern island of Mindanao under martial law on May 23 after clashes erupted when soldiers and policemen moved to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged head of the Islamic State in Mindanao who is on Washington’s list of most-wanted terrorists.

However, they were met by a force of gunmen composed of militants from the Maute group, backed by an undetermined number of foreign fighters, including Asians and militants from the Middle East.

Almost two months since the hostilities broke out, government forces have yet to retake Marawi from the militants, who are believed entrenched in several villages with many civilians held hostage. At least 379 rebel fighters, 89 soldiers and policemen and 39 civilians have died in the fighting.

On Tuesday, Duterte said the Marawi fighting may end in about two weeks.

“I think in 10 to 15 days it'll already be OK,” Duterte said in a speech before business executives.

Two military planes prepare to attack Islamic State-inspired gunmen in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, July 11, 2017. [Richel V. Umel/BenarNews]


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