Duterte says martial law must be extended to ensure ‘public safety’

By: Euan Black - Posted on: July 19, 2017 | Current Affairs

The Philippines leader has requested an extension to martial law on the island of Mindanao as the conflict with Islamic State-linked rebels nears its end

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during the turnover ceremony of pistols at the Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines, 18 July 2017. Duterte handed over 3,000 units of caliber .45 pistols to the military, stressing the need for soldiers to be equipped with more than service firearms during drugs operations. Photo: EPA/Mark R. Cristino

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has appealed to Congress to extend martial law on the Muslim-majority island of Mindanao beyond the constitutional limit of 60 days, a move his critics say typifies his “authoritarian tendencies”.

Duterte’s request comes a week after he announced that the military was days away from defeating the Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Maute group in Marawi City, where fighting first broke out on 23 May after a failed military raid to capture a IS-linked terrorist leader Isnilon Hapilon.

In a letter to the leaders of the Senate and the House of Representative, Duterte argued that “public safety requires it”, an assessment he claimed was supported by heads of the armed forces and national police, along with his defence secretary and martial law administrator, Delfin Lorenzana.

As of Monday, 97 government troops, 45 civilians and at least 405 militants had been killed during 56 days of fighting, according to the Philippine military, which also estimated that as few as 60 rebels were left in Marawi, with Hapilon still believed to be leading the group.

The country’s former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, imposed martial law across the whole of the Philippines from 1972 until 1981, during which time military forces killed at least 3,240 people, tortured 34,000, and imprisoned 70,000, according to Amnesty International.

Yet the bloodshed under Marcos does not appear to have coloured the country’s appraisal of Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao.  

According to a Social Weather Stations survey in June, Duterte’s declaration was supported by 57% of the population, a surprisingly high figure that many attribute to the effective propaganda campaign waged by the Marcos regime to portray the period of martial as a gilded age for the Philippines.

“People are saying that the Filipino people were more disciplined [under Marcos], so we want martial law,” Joselito Lolinco, a retired teacher from Marcos’ hometown province of Ilocos Norte, told Newsweek earlier this week, a response that typified the province’s widespread acceptance of martial law and reverence for Marcos.

However, Duterte’s initial decision and latest request have been met with criticism from senators and human rights groups.

With only 60 members of the Maute group remaining in Marawi, martial law was no longer necessary in Marawi, in the eyes of senator Antonio Trillanes, who told the New York Times the request reflected Duterte’s “authoritarian tendencies”.

“The people of Mindanao would be inconvenienced by martial law just to neutralize the 60 Mautes who are cornered in Marawi?” he said. “That’s a whimsical misuse of power.”