Philippines extends Mindanao martial law to end of year | News | DW | 22.07.2017
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Philippines extends Mindanao martial law to end of year

Philippine lawmakers have voted in favor of extending martial law in the troubled southern province of Mindanao for some five months. Government troops are battling "Islamic State"-affiliated groups in the area.

In a special joint session of parliament, Philippine legislators agreed on Saturday to extend President Rodrigo Duterte's martial law in Mindanao until December 31.

The Senate voted 16-4 in favor of extension, whereas the vote in the House of Representatives was 245-14.

"The motion to extend the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is hereby approved by the Congress," House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez announced after the vote.

Ahead of the vote, Philippine authorities said that martial law in the country's south was needed to stabilize a region where "Islamic State" (IS) was gaining influence.

Philippinen Präsident Rodrigo Duterte (picture-alliance/dpa/B. Marque)

President Duterte said he could extend martial law to other parts of the country

Marawi, the main Muslim city in the predominantly Catholic Philippines, which is situated on Mindanao, was partially seized by hundreds of IS-affiliated Maute fighters in May. Subsequently, government troops launched an air and ground offensive, but have so far failed to dislodge fighters who remain entrenched at various points in the city, 800 kilometers (500 miles) from the capital, Manila.

Most of the 200,000 residents of the now heavily damaged city have fled, but the military said some 500 civilians remained trapped in areas where fighting is going on. More than 300 militants and 67 soldiers have been killed in the battles, according to official figures. Dozens of civilians are also feared dead.

"I cannot afford to be complacent," President Duterte told reporters on Friday, adding that the military could launch further operations even if they managed to recapture Marawi.

"If there is spillage, it will not be as bad if you have the stopgap," he added.

Read: Muslim ID proposal sparks anger in Philippines Marawi

'Abuse of power'

On May 23, Duterte imposed martial law in Mindanao and hinted he might extend it to other parts of the country.

"We have reached dangerous levels. With martial law, I will solve all Mindanao problems," said the firebrand president, who is often in news for his aggressive political style and a violent anti-drug campaign.

The Philippine constitution limits the martial law period up to 60 days but Duterte said it could last up to a year.

Read: Philippines resume 'offensive operations' against militants

Rights activists and opposition parties have warned that Duterte could use martial law in Mindanao to expand military powers.

"The imposition of martial law will send a strong signal to militants that the government is in control of the situation. But the authorities have to rely on the security forces that are overstretched, and if you remove constitutional protections, there is a danger of power abuse," Jose Antonio, a Manila-based security analyst and military historian, told DW.

"Duterte didn't need to declare martial law to address the situation. But this is typical of his character. His style of governance is authoritarian and he does not tolerate dissent. He is moving the country toward a complete martial law," Antonio added.

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Civilians flee fighting in southern Philippines

shs/tj  (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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