Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao on Tuesday, as Philippine security forces battle ISIS-linked militants on the island.
Duterte issued the statement from Moscow, where he is currently amid an official state visit.
On Tuesday morning, Philippine forces conducted a raid against Islamic militants in Marawi City, the capital of Lanao del Sur Province on Mindanao, in an attempt to capture Isnilon Hapilon. Hapilon has been the leader of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia, also known as the Maute Group, since pledging his allegiance to the terrorist organization in 2014.
The ensuing battle saw at least one police officer and two soldiers killed, as well as a dozen others wounded. The ISIS-linked fighters were believed to be domestic terrorist hold overs from a long-standing Muslim separatist group bolstered by foreign fighters entering the country to conduct terror operations under the ISIS flag.
During the fighting, as many as 50 gunmen from the Islamic extremist camp entered Marawi City, which has a population of about 200,000, and began burning buildings, businesses, and people’s homes in an effort to “sow confusion during the fighting,” Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano, the armed forces chief of staff, told the media.
Some of the extremists managed to establish a loosely fortified position near one of the city’s hospitals, raising the flag of the Islamic State as fighting continued elsewhere in the city.
“The whole of Marawi City is blacked out,”said Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. “There is no light, and there are Maute snipers all around.” As a result, the Philippine troops have been ordered to hold their positions until reinforcements can arrive on Wednesday.
Among the buildings said to be destroyed by the ISIS fighters already in the fighting are a church, the city jail, a school, a college and a number of homes, according to Lorenzana’s statements.
The declaration of martial law went into effect at 10PM on Tuesday and will remain for a minimum of 60 days throughout all of the island of Mindanao.
The declaration was necessary “in order to suppress lawless violence and rebellion and for public safety,” Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters. “The government is in full control of the situation,” he added, but is “fully aware that the Maute/ISIS and similar groups have the capability, though limited, to disturb the peace.”
The declaration of martial law under the Philippine constitution includes the suspension of habeas corpus, or the right to appear before a judge when accused of a crime, and imposes curfews and the establishment of military checkpoints throughout the island. There are currently 21 million Philippine citizens living on the island, all of whom are now subject to martial law until further notice.
Duterte has garnered a fair amount of ill will in the international community for his campaign intended to root out the drug trade from his nation. Since taking office in 2014, his government has been accused of authorizing mass executions of those accused of selling, or merely doing, illegal drugs, and Duterte has threatened to declare martial law in the past in order to further his efforts.
“If I declare martial law, I will finish all the problems, not just drugs,” Duterte told reporters in the past. It would seem that on the Island of Mindanao, his nation’s military may now be tasked with attempting to do just that.
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