Duterte seeks martial law extension in south
Critics warn that country edging towards dictatorship
President Rodrigo Duterte plans to extend martial law in the southern Philippines to defeat Islamist militants who have seized a major city, his administration said yesterday, as critics warned the country could be edging towards a dictatorship. Duterte had imposed military rule for 60 days in the Mindanao region, home to 20 million people, after gunmen waving black Islamic State flags occupied Marawi city on May 23, triggering clashes that have killed more than 550 people.
While the military said at least 60 militants continued to hold out against government forces nearly two months later, critics expressed surprise by Duterte’s request for a martial law extension until December 31. “I have come to the conclusion that the existing rebellion in Mindanao which has prompted me to issue (the martial law proclamation), will not be quelled completely by 22nd July 2017,” Duterte said in a letter to Congress.
Congress is to convene Saturday to discuss an extension after Duterte met with its leaders late Monday, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters. The president also asked Congress to suspend a constitutional safeguard against warrantless arrests. “This is not only a step back, but several steps back for our democracy,” opposition lawmaker and prominent martial law critic Edcel Lagman told AFP, calling Duterte’s request illegal.
Lagman and Senator Antonio Trillanes, a fellow critic, also warned of a potential repeat of human rights abuses under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose 20year rule was ended by a bloodless popular revolt in 1986. Trillanes, a retired naval officer, also accused Duterte of using martial rule as preparation for installing a revolutionary government that would allow him to stay in office beyond his six-year electoral mandate. “Once he feels that there is not enough opposition to a nationwide martial law declaration, he will go for it,” Trillanes told AFP. The country’s constitution allows the president to impose martial law for up to 60 days, as well as allowing authorities to detain suspects for up to three days without charges to suppress invasion or rebellion. Beyond two months, the president can extend it “for a period to be determined by the Congress”.
But Duterte’s allies dominate Congress, and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said yesterday he saw no obstacle to approving an extension. Duterte had initially consulted the military and police on extending martial rule. His spokesman would not say if the plan to extend by five months was their idea. In May, Duterte said he had made the move to stamp out an attempt by militants, including foreign fighters, to establish an IS caliphate on Philippine territory. — AFP
MANILA: Protesters hold placards to protest the extension of martial law on Mindanao island in southern Philippines. —AP