PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said he will carefully study the possibility of declaring martial law in Mindanao, specifically in restive Sulu province.
This was after the Save Sulu Movement urged the President to declare martial law in six of 19 municipalities of Sulu, in a bid to suppress the lawless acts of Abu Sayyaf bandits.
“I need time to ponder on it deeply and it is not only a political decision, it is an emotional decision. You do not tinker with the…powers of the state,” Duterte told reporters during a news conference upon his arrival in Davao City early Tuesday morning.
“I would not just tinker with it as if it’s a plaything. It’s a very serious matter,” the President added.
The Save Sulu Movement earlier pointed out that the bandit group continues to sow terror despite the President’s declaration of a state of lawlessness in the province.
The six Sulu towns allegedly serving as Abu Sayyaf sanctuaries are Patikul, Indanan, Parang, Maimbung, Talipao, and Kalingalan Caluang.
In March, Duterte warned that he might be forced to implement one-man rule in Mindanao, if peace and order worsens in the beleaguered region.
“Do not force my hand to declare martial law because if I do, I will solve not only rebellion, I will solve everything that ails Mindanao,” the President said.
“Kung ako ang magma-martial law [If I declare martial law], there is no way of telling how long would it take us to restore order or we might not really be able to succeed,” he added.
The Abu Sayyaf, established with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network, have been kidnapping foreigners and locals for decades and holding them for ransom. They are believed to still hold at least 19 foreigners and six Filipino hostages.
Blamed for the nation’s worst terrorist attacks, the Abu Sayyaf has used the support of local communities, millions of dollars in ransom and collusion with corrupt local officials to defy decades of military operations.
Last May 10, Save Sulu Movement spokesman Octavio Dinampo told a Davao City forum that Congress should investigate local officials in cahoots with the Abu Sayyaf.
He accused local officials of coddling the terror and kidnapping group and of getting the lion’s share of ransom money paid by victims’ families.
In a statement on May 8, the group branded the earlier pronouncements of President Duterte and Armed Forces Chief Eduardo Año that they would crush the Abu Sayyaf as “only good for media sound bites.”
“The ground unfolds a totally different story of kidnapping becoming a cottage industry with local officials acting as promoters, brokers and protectors,” it said.
“On behalf of the Save Sulu Movement, we call on the Senate to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation on the palpable connivance between the local officials and the [Abu Sayyaf]. We also recommend to Congress to criminalize the giving and payment ransom and the receipt of ransom in the guise of negotiation. It is sickening to keep on hearing the no-ransom policy when everyone knows too well that ransom is actually being paid and brokered by the local government officials thus perpetuating the business of [the Abu Sayyaf].”