PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte said he needed to extend his declaration of martial law in Mindanao for another five months to prevent the retaliation and a spillover of the ideology that spurred the Islamic State-inspired Maute group to launch terrorist attacks.
In a media interview in Davao City on Friday, Duterte said rehabilitation of Marawi City was not the only reason he asked Congress to extend the declaration of martial law in the south.
“Because I have to rehabilitate. Then again, the retaliation. You know, every space in Mindanao, there are always Moro and a Christian. The contamination of the ideology, na nakita nilang patay [with the dead people that they saw], might spur others just to do the same,” Duterte told reporters.
He said Mindanao’s geography posed a challenge in the government’s fight against terrorism as its borders were “porous.”
“Mindanao specifically is a land of the mixed. Kaya ako hindi masyado kampante [That’s why I’m not complacent] because there will be mopping up operations. This is not a — the boundary is a land boundary. It’s very porous. Either you can go to Zamboanga and to Jolo and Basilan, and in the rest, even in Davao,” Duterte said.
“So, it’s our way of, you know, trying to control things so they will not — there is a spillage, it will not be as great as when you do not have these gaps… stop — stopgaps [measures],” he added.
Duterte issued the statement a day before Congress held a joint special session to discuss his request for martial law extension.
The President is asking Congress to extend martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus until December 31, 2017.
If Congress does not extend martial law in Mindanao, Duterte is prepared to make warrantless arrests “in good faith.”
“I can operate with or without martial law. So, I have to do the — I said, I’ll just have to do my duty. It’s in my oath of office. I don’t need martial law. Kung ayaw ninyo, then we will just have to arrest persons because martial law gives me the power to arrest the person without a warrant,” the President said.
“Now, ‘pag wala na ‘yan and if I have to arrest you without a warrant, I will arrest you without a warrant — with or without martial law — if I think that it is part of the war. If I believe in good faith na kasali ka sa rebelde, huhulihin kita [that you are a rebel, I will catch you]with or without martial law,” he added.
The suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, which Duterte declared alongside martial law, allows the government to arrest without a warrant “persons judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in or directly connected with the invasion.”
But during the suspension, those arrested or detained must be judicially charged within three days, or otherwise released.
According to the President, the five-month period did not come from him but was suggested by security officials. He declined to name who.
“Sa kanila ‘yan [It’s from them],” Duterte said, adding that the five-month extension for martial law may not be exhausted if the government could see that “there is no more ISIS and rebellion” in Mindanao.
“What am I supposed to do with martial law? I get my salary with or without a martial law. It doesn’t really bother me anymore. Ano ba ‘yung martial law [What is martial law]?” he said.
The effectivity of Proclamation 216 ends this Saturday, given the 60-day time limit set in the 1987 Constitution.
In a statement, Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said they trusted congressmen to decide on what must be done with Duterte’s request.
He noted that the “primary objective” of the extension was “to allow our forces to continue in their swift and decisive action in liberating Marawi.”
“As authorities follow through with their operations, they need to be on guard in preventing the spillover of lawlessness and violent extremism in other parts of Mindanao and maintain peace and stability in the entire island, owing to the cohesion, bond of comradeship and affinity of the personalities involved, which run deep and complex and have created a network that could stretch in all corners of Mindanao,” Abella said.
“We trust Congress to recognize the gravity of the situation and support the Executive Department in declaring that the factual and legal basis upon which martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was upheld is continuing and still persists,” he added.
Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, after the Maute extremist group attacked Marawi City that left hundreds killed and thousands of families displaced.
The death toll in Marawi siege has risen to 571, as of July 20, including the 427 terrorists, 99 government troops, and 45 civilians.
On Thursday, Duterte fulfilled his promise to visit the city amid the ongoing battle.
In a speech the President said it has been taking long for soldiers to clear Marawi of terrorists because of 300 civilian hostages.
“One thing that’s stopping us now is the mosque. It’s a big one. It has underground tunnels but not so much about that. But they (terrorists) have 300 hostages,” he said.
The President said he ordered the military not to assault because the hostages might be beheaded.
“That’s 300 lives. If we have to wait there for one year, let us wait for one year. But I said give them food, because there are people hungry there. But don’t give bullets, just food,” he added.