President Duterte has today (Tuesday, July 18) asked Congress to extend martial law on Mindanao until the end of the year.
The island, which is home to 22 million people, was placed under military rule on May 23 after Maute group and Abu Sayyaf terrorists went on the rampage under the black flag of Islamic State in Marawi.
Scores of militants, including foreign jihadists, continue to hold out in the city even after 57 days of ground offensives, air strikes and artillery bombardments.
Authorities say 413 militants have been killed against 98 security personnel and at least 45 civilians.
Reading a letter from the president, his spokesman Ernesto Abella said: “The primary objective of the possible extension is to allow our forces to continue with their operations unhampered by deadlines and to focus more on the liberation of Marawi and its rehabilitation and rebuilding.”
However, some opposition lawmakers claim the move is unconstitutional. Senator Francis Pangilinan pointed out that martial rule was an “extraordinary and temporary measure” and that any extension could not be more than 60 days.
Senator Antonio Trillanes, a frequent critic of the president, said such a long extension was a “whimsical misuse of power”.
“I have already forewarned the public of Duterte’s authoritarian tendencies and this is another proof of it,” he said.
However, the majority of lawmakers are expected to approve the request, albeit with caveats.
Harry Roque, House deputy minority leader and member of the recognised minority bloc, said that while he supports the extension, it should be lifted as soon as possible.
“A declaration and a continuing declaration of martial law is an admission to the entire world community that there is rebellion or invasion in the Philippines and that the public safety requires its declaration.
“Prolonged imposition is normalisation of an abnormal situation. It means making a crisis near permanent, which raises questions on the ability of government to effectively address it,”
Martial law is a sensitive issue in the Philippines, invoking memories of the Marcos years. The extension would be the first time since then that martial law has been renewed.
Outrage about martial law has largely been restricted to Duterte’s political foes, with the majority of Filipinos supportive of his security measures, according to opinion polls.
Martial law allows for deeper surveillance and arrests without warrant, giving security forces a freer rein to go after suspected extremists.
The original declaration is due to expire on Saturday, July 22. Congress will meet in a special joint session on that day to consider the requested extension.