MANILA – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte placed the whole Mindanao region under martial law on Tuesday night, after terrorist group loyal to Islamic State occupied part of a southern city.
Three government troops, which include a police officer and two army troops, were killed in a gunfight with the terrorist group, which also later occupied a government hospital, the city hall, city jail and a part of a university compound in Marawi City.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella made the announcement at a press conference in Moscow, where the president is on an official four-day visit.
“The president has called me and asked me to announce that as of 10pm Manila time (9pm Tuesday evening in Thailand), he has already declared martial law for the entire island of Mindanao,” he said.
“The proclamation will last 60 days.”
Under the country’s constitution, declaring martial law empowers the government to conduct warrantless arrests, effectively tightening its hold over a lawless area or a region beset by rebellion during its duration.
Fighters of the Maute terrorist group clashed with government security forces inside Marawi City in Mindanao at 2pm Tuesday, after authorities tried to serve an arrest warrant for its leader, Isnilon Hapilon.
The Abu Sayyaf, Maute and other hard-line groups are claiming they want to set up an Islamic caliphate in the south for IS, according to security analysts.
In October last year, operatives of the group were blamed for the twin bombing in Duterte’s home city of Davao which killed 15 people, then prompting the Philippine leader to declare a state of national emergency, which was characterised by intensified police and the military campaign to quell crime.
“The whole of Marawi City is blocked out. There is no light and there (are) snipers, Maute snipers, all around,” Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said at the same press conference.
He said military reinforcements from Manila and the nearby province of Zamboanga were on the way to Marawi.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Duterte will be cutting short his stay in Russia because of the incident, and will return to Manila.
Source: Kyodo News