Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, May 24 warned that he might expand the implementation of martial law nationwide if threats from the the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group persists.
In a press conference upon his arrival from Russia, Duterte initially hinted that he might extend the military rule in Visayas, and later, in Luzon.
“I may decide to expand the area to include the Visayas because it is just a walking distance actually. And because of the many islands, they can always escape there and begin another terroristic activity,” Duterte said.
He went on to say, “If I think that the IS has already taken foothold also in Luzon, and terrorism is not really far behind, I might declare martial law throughout the country to protect the people.”
On Tuesday evening, May 23, Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao in the wake of a confrontation between government troops and local militants in Marawi City.
The clash reportedly erupted around 2 p.m. on the same day when the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) conducted a joint operation in barangay Basak Malutlut to capture Isnilon Hapilon, who is believed to be the head of IS in Southeast Asia.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana identified the militants as members of the Maute group, which is believed to have pledged allegiance to IS in 2015.
Lorenzana confirmed that the militants have occupied several establishments in Marawi City, including Amai Pakpak Medical Center, Marawi’s city hall, and the city jail.
He also confirmed reports that several other facilities, such as St. Mary’s Church, Ninoy Aquino School, and Dansalan College, were burned down by the Maute group.
The developments prompted Duterte to cut his four-day official visit to Moscow short to personally oversee government operations.
“The hardest thing to deal with would be the arrival of IS in our country and it has come to pass, that there is really war going on,” Duterte said.
“Government must put an end to this. I cannot gamble with IS because they are everywhere and you know what is happening or you must be very aware of what is happening in the Middle East,” he added.
Duterte warned that he will be “harsh” in the implementation of martial law, noting that it “will not be different” from the military rule imposed by late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
According to the president, the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus will be suspended under the martial law.
The Chief Executive also warned: “Remember that this is not intended for the law-abiding citizens. We are the least of your worry. But if you confront government and my orders are one: to enforce the law. And anyone caught possessing a gun and confronting us with violence, my orders are shoot to kill.”
He went on to say, “I will not hesitate to do it. My human rights is different. It is an institutional theory which we will reserve and observe.”
“But anyone now holding a gun, confronting government with violence, my orders are spare no one. Let us solve the problem of Mindanao once and for all,” Duterte further added.
Despite this, Duterte assured that he will not tolerate abuses. “Congress is functioning. The courts are open for citizens to seek their grievance,” he said.
While Malacañang initially announced that the military rule in Mindanao will last for only about 60 days, Duterte warned that it could be extended for a year.
“How long? Well, if it would take a year to do it then we’ll do it. If it’s over in a month I’d be happy,” he said.
In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) affirmed that the government is “in full control” of the crisis in Mindanao.
The DFA stressed that it is “necessary” to declare martial law in Mindanao to “suppress lawless violence and rebellion and for public safety.”
“The Philippine government is in full control, and fully aware that the Maute Group / ISIS groups have the capability (although limited) to disturb the peace; they have shown no hesitation in causing havoc, taking innocent lives and destroying property,” it said.
Section 18, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution states that the president of the Philippines may place the country under martial law in case of invasion or rebellion for not exceeding than 60 days; and that the president may suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus within 48 hours from the proclamation of martial law.
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