Duterte declares martial law in Mindanao, 3 other provinces
COTABATO CITY – President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday night placed the whole of Southern Philippines under a state of martial law following the siege of Marawi City by local ISIS-affiliate Maute group.
Secretary Ernesto Abella, the Presidential spokesman, announced Duterte’s decision in a news conference from Moscow where the Filipino leader is on a four-day visit. Duterte is expected to cut short his visit and return home to address the issue of terrorism.
The martial law will stay in effect for 60 days and covers Mindanao Island and the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, all in the Muslim autonomous region. More troops are expected to arrive in Marawi in the coming days to finish off the militant group.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said authorities with the declaration of martial rule, police and military can now do searches without a warrant, arrest suspected terrorists and suspend the writ of habeas corpus, among others.
Heavily-armed members of the jihadist Maute group have occupied several areas in Marawi City in the restive province of Lanao del Sur sparking sporadic clashes with army soldiers. The violence has already left over a dozen casualties.
The jihadists hoisted ISIS flags at a hospital and several establishments there and even used a police car with the Daesh flag to block a road. Maute fighters, whose group has pledged allegiance to the ISIS, and vowed to establish a caliphate in the troubled region.
The Western Mindanao Command military headquarters in Zamboanga City said troops clashed with about 15 gunmen in the village of Basak.
It said the fighting erupted after Maute members attacked security forces sent to the area following intelligence reports that gunmen, including Abu Sayyaf chieftain Isnilon Hapilon, who is also the titular head of the local ISIS group, was spotted along with a group of jihadists hiding in a house. Hapilon was first reported by the military to have been either killed or wounded in clashes last year with security forces in nearby Butig town.
A building was also set on fire and electricity cut off and making it extremely difficult for security forces to pursue the militants here. And the local mayor Majul Gandamra, who is holed out with his security personnel at the City Hall building, said there were no soldiers and policemen in areas where the militants were. He said he asked the military and police for assistance to help protect City Hall, but no soldiers arrived.
Army Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, a spokeswoman for the Western Mindanao Command, said sympathizers of the Maute group also attacked soldiers triggering a gun battle. “Government forces were able to contain majority of the militants in one area however, some of their sympathizers conducted diversionary tactics in other locations to divide the attention of the reinforcing military personnel,” she said, adding, by dusk, operations against the armed group were continuing.
“Operations are still ongoing and other details cannot yet be revealed so as not to compromise operational security,” Petinglay said, who also urged locals to refrain from uploading photos or video clip of soldiers pursuing the militants.
“We urge all peace loving people to refrain from posting in social media information that would tend to exacerbate the situation. Especially photos and videos on the movements of our troops and on terrorist propaganda circulating through social media,” she said.
Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman has condemned “these acts of terror” and said the government stands in solidarity with Marawi “in these dark times.”
“Words might seem useless right now, as no words can express what we feel as we share in the fear and anger of our people. We strongly condemn these acts of terror committed against the people of Marawi City and swear to take immediate action as necessary. Marawi City is known as the Philippines’ Islamic City, but it is home to people of different histories, different beliefs. That these acts of terror are happening in a diverse community bound by mutual respect and a shared commitment to peace is a travesty.”
“Any group who sows terror and then dares to say that they do it in the name of Islam should be ashamed. Any man who claims to fight for a just cause, yet dares to incite violence a few days before the Holy Month of Ramadhan is a monster whose words belie his actions. The regional government stands in solidarity with the city of Marawi in these dark times. We have won many struggles together and we will stop at nothing to bring these terrorists to justice and win back the peace in your beloved city and in the Bangsamoro,” Hataman said.
This was not the first time jihadists had launch attacks against security forces right in the heart of Marawi. There had been previous Maute offensives that military and police failed to prevent. The siege lasted for several hours.
Photos and video clip of the siege were also posted by locals on their social media account and ISIS Live Map also uploaded pictures on the Internet showing heavily-armed jihadists clad in black robe walking the streets of Marawi. One of them even spoke on a bullhorn as he walked the street while locals listen nervously. No one dared to stop the jihadist. (Mindanao Examiner)
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