Martial law in southern Philippines could last a year - Duterte

Gwen Vasquez
May 25, 2017

Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano, the armed forces chief of staff, said almost 50 gunmen entered Marawi City, which has a population of about 200,000, and burned houses and other buildings to sow confusion during the fighting, the Associated Press reported.

Duterte on Tuesday night placed all of the southern region of Mindanao, which makes up roughly one third of the country and is home to 20 million people, under martial law, following deadly clashes between security forces and Islamist militants.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella made the announcement in Moscow on Tuesday, where the president is on a visit.

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte.

The country suffered 14 years of martial law under former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted in a peaceful revolution in 1986.

Duterte had repeatedly said the growing influence of Islamic State was one of the nation's top security concerns, and martial law was necessary to stop it.

Ano said Hapilon, who is still recovering from wounds sustained in an airstrike by the air force in January, and more than a dozen of his men summoned reinforcements from their allies in the Maute militant group, which deployed more fighters into Marawi.

The province is a zone of armed confrontation between government troops and militants of a group linked with the terrorist organization Islamic States.

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Hapilon, a senior Abu Sayyaf leader, is considered one of the most radical members of the group and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in videos circulated online a year ago.

Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Pena said the militants forced their way into the Marawi Cathedral and seized a Catholic priest, 10 worshippers and three church workers. The Sun-Star reports that thousands of people have nevertheless fled their homes, as the military moved in armored fighting vehicles and even appears to have conducted airstrikes against "selected areas of Marawi City, particularly in the border with Lanao del Sur beside Lake Lanao".

It has also been blamed for the country's worst terrorist attacks, including the 2004 bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay that claimed more than 100 lives.

"I have to do it to preserve the Republic of the Philippines, the Filipino people", he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte has requested Russian President Vladimir Putin for a soft loan for weapons which will be used by the Philippine government in its fight against terrorism.

Authorities said they were battling members of two of the best-known groups to have declared allegiance to IS, the Abu Sayyaf and Maute organisations.

Duterte, who is known internationally for waging a war on drugs that has claimed thousands of lives, had said on many occasions since becoming president previous year that he was prepared to declare martial law nationally as well as in Mindanao. According to security services, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group, Isnilon Hapilon, is among those blocked in the apartment.

But Tuesday's declaration of martial law - effectively replacing the civilian government with the armed forces - gives soldiers increased impunity to carry out arrests.

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