Duterte plans to extend martial law in Mindanao till year end

This article is more than 12 months old

MANILA President Rodrigo Duterte plans to extend martial law in the southern Philippines to defeat Islamist militants who have seized a major city there, his spokesman said yesterday, as a critic warned the country could be edging towards a dictatorship.

Mr Duterte had imposed military rule for 60 days in the Mindanao region, home to 20 million people, after gunmen waving black Islamic State in Iraq and Syria flags occupied Marawi City on May 23, triggering clashes that have killed more than 500 people.

While militants continue to hold out against government forces nearly two months later, critics expressed surprise at his request for a martial law extension until Dec 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 July 22," Mr Duterte said in a letter to congressional leaders.

Congress is to convene on Saturday to discuss the request of Mr Duterte, who met with congressional leaders late on Monday, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

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," said opposition lawmaker and prominent martial law critic Edcel Lagman, who called Mr Duterte's request illegal.

"That will indicate the possibility of extending the coverage of martial law outside Mindanao," Mr Lagman told AFP.

He also warned of a potential repeat of the military abuses and political repression during the martial law regime of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose 20-year rule ended with a bloodless popular revolt in 1986.

The country's constitution allows the president to impose martial law for up to 60 days, as well as allowing the authorities to detain suspects for up to three days without charge to suppress invasion or rebellion.

Beyond two months, the president can extend it "for a period to be determined by the Congress".

Mr Duterte had sought the recommendations of the military and police on extending martial rule but his spokesman would not say if these had called for five months of martial rule. - AFP