Philippine president asks Congress to extend martial law in south
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has asked the parliament to extend martial law on the southern island of Mindanao, which has witnessed deadly fighting between army forces and Daesh-affiliated militants controlling a major city there.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told a news briefing on Tuesday the extension will give armed forces the chance to “deal with local terrorist groups and anything that threatens public safety in Mindanao,” which is home to 20 million people.
In a letter to the parliament, the president warned of a “looming threat” in the south, making a plea to congressional leaders to hold a joint special session on Saturday to approve the extension of the martial law until the end of this year.
“The primary objective of the possible extension is to allow our forces to continue with their operations unhampered by deadlines and to focus more on the liberation of Marawi and its rehabilitation and rebuilding,” said Abella, reading the letter to Congress signed by Duterte.
Meanwhile, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who attended a late Monday meeting with Duterte, said the president “explained clearly his fear that terrorism might slowly spread throughout Mindanao and eventually the country.”
Duterte’s request came after the Philippine National Police (PNP) asked for an extension of martial law in Mindanao.
In a press conference on Monday, National police chief Ronald dela Rosa said extending the martial law was necessary. He did not, however, indicate for how long they wanted military rule to stay over the entire island of Mindanao.
The Philippine president imposed military rule for 60 days in the Mindanao region on May 23, when gunmen occupied Marawi City.
Since then, security forces, backed by airstrikes and artillery fire, have been conducting a military operation to root out the militants, who have been holed up in Marawi’s business district.
More than 500 people have so far been killed in the clashes.
Duterte further told the congressmen that the militancy in the south would not be crushed by July 22, when his two-month martial law expires.
According to Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, the parliament was told on Monday that the martial law needs to remain in place as 600 buildings in Marawi have yet to be cleansed of explosives or armed men.
Under the Philippines’ constitution, the president has the authority to impose martial law for up to 60 days, but beyond two months, the head of state can extend it “for a period to be determined by the Congress.”