Philippine Congress grants Duterte's request to extend martial law in Mindanao until December 2018

Source: Xinhua| 2017-12-13 17:49:57|Editor: Xiang Bo
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MANILA, Dec. 13 (Xinhua) -- The Philippine Congress granted on Wednesday Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's request to extend martial law in Mindanao for a period of one year, from Jan. 1, 2018 to Dec. 31, 2018, to "quell completely" terrorists and local rebels there.

After debating for more than four hours in a special joint session, lawmakers overwhelmingly approved Duterte's request -- in a vote of 14-4 in the Senate and 226-23 in the House of Representatives -- to keep the sounthern island of Mindanao under military rule until December next year.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Malacanang presidential palace welcomed the Congress approval. "Public safety is our primordial concern; thus we ask the public to stand behind the administration and rally behind our defenders to quell the continuing rebellion in Mindanao," Roque said in a statement.

Roque reiterated that placing Mindanao under martial rule will "eradicate the DAESH-inspired Da'awatul Islamiyah Waliyatul Masriq (DIWM) and other minded local, foreign terrorist groups and armed lawless groups, the communist terrorist and their coddlers, supporters and financiers."

Moreover, Roque said martial law will "ensure the unhampered rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi and the lives of its residents."

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the martial law administrator, thanked the Congress for its "affirmation of trust and confidence" to the military.

"The Filipino people can rest assured that we will not squander this opportunity to finally end the continuing rebellion and terrorism in Mindanao by destroying the Daesh structure in the area, thwart like-minded groups from conducting further acts of terrorism and prevent the spillover of violence and radicalism in other parts of the country," Lorenzana said in a statement.

Duterte initially imposed a 60-day martial law in Mindanao on May 23, after Islamist fighters that have pledged allegiance to ISIS laid siege to Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city on Mindanao.

At the height of the intense fighting to retake Marawi from the pro-IS militants in July, Duterte asked Congress to extend the martial law until December 2017, a request that lawmakers easily approved.

Five months after the attack, the government managed to retake the besieged city in October, paving way for the reconstruction of the ruined city.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who attended the joint session, said placing Mindanao further under martial rule would allow government troops to protect the region while the rehabilitation and reconstruction is underway.

"We do not ask for an unlimited martial law. What we are seeking is an unlimited peace," he told the lawmakers.

Duterte formally requested the Congress on Monday to extend martial law in the entire Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2018 in order for the government to "quell completely" the threat of Islamist terrorism in the southern Philippine region.

In a letter addressed to Congress, Duterte said placing Mindanao under martial law for another year will also prevent violent extremism from spreading to other parts of the country.

Duterte said that militants "continue to rebuild their organisation through recruitment and training of members and fighters to carry on the rebellion" despite the death of extremist leaders Isnilon Hapilon and the Maute brothers.

He noted IS-linked militants "have been monitored" to conduct "radicalization" through active recruitment, financial and logistical buildup and consolidation in central Mindanao particularly in Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces, and Sulu and Basilan, the remote island provinces off Mindanao and known hideout of militants.

Other IS-inspired groups such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) are also planning to sow terror in the impoverished region.

The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines only allows the President to declare martial law for a maximum of 60 days. Any extension would require approval from Congress.