MANILA, July 18 (Xinhua) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte wants to extend martial law in the entire Mindanao and nearby islands until the end of the year to ensure public safety and in order to quell the rebellion in the southern Philippines, his spokesman Ernesto Abella said on Tuesday.
Abella said that Duterte sent a seven-page letter to Congress Monday night requesting for an extension of martial law until Dec. 31, 2017, "or for such period of time as a congress may determine."
"The primary objective of the possible extension is to allow our forces to continue with their operation unhampered by deadlines and to focus more on the liberation of Marawi and its rehabilitation and rebuilding," Abella told a news conference at the Malacanang presidential palace.
Duterte declared martial law for 60 days on the entire Mindanao and nearby island provinces after extremists linked to Islamic State laid siege to Marawi City in May. The 60-day period will end on July 22.
Duterte has called congress for a special session on Saturday, the last day of the 60-day martial law declaration, "to deliberate and consider the possible extension of martial law in Mindanao," according to Abella.
Before writing a letter to congress, Duterte invited selected lawmakers to a dinner at the palace Monday night to brief them on the security situation in Mindanao. Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto, who was at the dinner, told local GMA News that Duterte bared his plan to extend martial law.
At the dinner, Sotto said Duterte painted a "scary" picture of terrorism in the southern Philippines and the threat that it could bring to the southern region if not contained.
Quoting Duterte, Sotto said that local terror groups are already "moving around" in Zamboanga and on the southern island of Jolo.
The ongoing Marawi conflict has so far claimed lives of 556 people, including 413 terrorists, 98 security forces and 45 civilians.
The military said more than 800 soldiers have also been wounded in the fighting to retake the rest of the city where around 60 militants are still holed out.