Philippines to extend martial law in south until year end
Manila, Philippines - The Philippine Congress on Saturday voted to extend President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in the south until the end of the year to defeat gunmen.
In a special joint session of the House and the Senate, legislators overwhelmingly backed Duterte’s bid to have martial law remain in force in the Mindanao region until December 31.
The vote came as troops continued their two-month long fight to wrest back the southern city of Marawi from Islamic State-inspired militants.
Duterte’s spokesman Ernesto Abella thanked Congress for its vote, saying ‘the nation has chosen to stand united in defending the Republic’.
‘The extension of martial law is essential to the overall peace and stability’, he said in a statement.
Although opposition legislators questioned government officials for hours on the legality of the move, the vote was largely a foregone conclusion as Duterte enjoys majorities in both houses of Congress.
“We may wake up one day and martial law will be in force in the whole country,” Senator Franklin Drilon said after the vote.
A slide presentation accompanying Duterte’s request, seen by AFP, compared the Marawi crisis to the Islamic State takeover of the Iraqi city of Mosul.
Marawi itself could now become a magnet for foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, it said.
Most of the militant leaders remain at large, the presentation added, while about 90 of the gunmen have slipped past security cordons and can link up with other armed groups in the region to mount similar widescale attacks.
At the hearing, defence and security officials justified the extended martial law, saying that aside from Marawi, IS militants were planning attacks in other parts of Mindanao.
In Marawi, the military said only about 60 gunmen were left in a 49-hectare area of Marawi, but Duterte said he needed martial law powers to rebuild the city and ensure the war did not spread elsewhere.
“I cannot afford to be complacent,” Duterte told reporters on Friday, adding the military would be conducting further ‘mopping up operations’ even after they recapture Marawi.
“If there is a spillage it will not be as bad if you have this stopgap,” he added.
Duterte imposed 60-day martial rule - the maximum period allowed by the constitution - over the Mindanao region on May 23 within hours of the gunmen beginning their rampage.