Duterte declares martial law in South
President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on Tuesday night after fighting raged in Marawi City between government forces and militants linked to the Islamic State (IS) group.
Mr. Duterte made the declaration from Moscow, where he was on a four-day official visit.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the declaration took effect at 10 p.m. on Tuesday.
He said the declaration was good for 60 days.
“[Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo] Guevarra has clarified that this is possible on the grounds of existence of rebellion because of what is happening in Mindanao based on Article 7, Section 18 of the Constitution. This is good for 60 days,” Abella said.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Mr. Duterte decided to cut short his visit to Russia before he could embark on any of the activities on his schedule.
Mr. Duterte is returning to Manila to submit a report to Congress within 48 hours of the declaration of martial law, as required by the Constitution.
Mr. Duterte’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will be postponed, but a phone call between Mr. Duterte and Putin is being planned, Cayetano said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, also traveling with Mr. Duterte, said the whole of Mindanao was placed under martial law even if the clashes were only in Marawi because there were also problems in other parts of the island.
With the declaration of martial law, there could be warrantless arrests and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
Lorenzana said the declaration would also allow security forces to control movements in Mindanao, helping them go after criminals.
He said state forces were in control and expected to contain the situation.
Abella said as much.
“The government is in full control of the situation and is fully aware that the Maute/[IS] and similar groups have the capability, though limited, to disturb the peace. These have shown no hesitation in causing havoc, taking innocent lives and destroying property,” he said.
Abella said Mr. Duterte met with his advisers before declaring martial law in Mindanao.
The clashes between government security forces and dozens of suspected local terrorists—including a group led by Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon—erupted around 2 p.m.
The fighting dragged on for hours, wounding at least one soldier and triggering mass evacuations as explosions reverberated in the city, the military said.
The military’s Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) said on Tuesday night the situation in Marawi City was “under control of the city officials.”
“Our soldiers and policemen continue to conduct mopping up operations to clear Marawi from remnants of the Maute [group] in order to protect our citizens,” Westmincom said in a statement.
Earlier, Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesperson for the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said the gun battle started when government security forces raided an apartment in Barangay Basak in Marawi hours earlier. The apartment was adjacent to the headquarters of the Lanao del Sur provincial police office and was reportedly used by Hapilon and several Maute group members as a rendezvous site.
President Duterte had earlier blamed the Maute group for a night market bombing in Davao City that killed 15 people in September last year.
Hapilon’s Abu Sayyaf faction has pledged allegiance to IS in hopes of getting financial assistance from the Middle Eastern terror group.
A series of clashes between the Maute group and the military near the town of Piagapo, Lanao del Sur, last month left at least 37 militants dead, including a Malaysian and three Indonesians, according to the military.
“The military operation focused on the alleged presence of Isnilon Hapilon with 15 fully armed Maute group members, who occupied an apartment as their rendezvous in Marawi City,” Herrera said.
In Manila, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, Armed Forces spokesperson, said “sporadic firefights” continued into Tuesday evening, and that troops were under orders to press the assault until Hapilon was captured or killed.
“We are also acting on reports of armed men occupying the hospital and some other buildings,” he said, adding that the operation was initiated by a joint military-police team. “We have enough troops and law enforcers on the ground as well all the appropriate equipment to support our troops.”
Speaking from Moscow earlier, Lorenzana said more troops would be sent to reinforce the city, where at least three buildings were seen burning and electricity was cut off on Tuesday night.
“At this point in time , it’s hard to go out on the street, we don’t know who the enemy is. We are blacked out and the fires are continuing,” local broadcaster Ayubkhan Saripada said.
The fighting took place as a large pre-Ramadan gathering of Muslims ended in Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city of more than 200,000. Ramadan could start on Friday or Saturday, depending on the sighting of the full moon.
Senior Supt. Oscar Nantes, provincial police director, said clashes also took place in Barangay Caloocan and in other areas of Marawi.
Two bomber planes took turns pounding the positions of the militants starting at 3:30 p.m., Nantes said.
“We can hear automatic gunshots from our current location,” he told the Inquirer by phone.
Sporadic gunfire could also be heard in the city’s downtown district, according to Zia Alonto Adiong, a member of the 24-seat Regional Assembly of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
He said a large number of residents had already fled their homes.
Nantes said policemen, backed by armored personnel carriers, also battled Maute group members, who wore khaki uniforms and black masks along the streets leading to the Amai PakPak provincial hospital.
At one point, a Maute member hoisted an IS flag in an area fronting the hospital.
“Maute group members mingle with civilians. It’s scary,” Macatoon Sam, a resident, posted on social media.
Sam said Maute members also stood in the middle of the road as if waiting for soldiers to come as people sought cover from bullets.
“Let’s pray for Marawi, let’s pray for the people,” another resident, Layok Macatoono, posted on his social media account.