PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is unlikely to lift martial law in Mindanao before the end of 2017 because of a possible spillover of violence brought about by the fighting in Marawi City to other parts of the region.
In his speech during the 11th founding anniversary celebration of the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) in Davao City on Friday, the President said he wanted the conflict to be over soon but his decision on whether or not to prolong martial law in Mindanao would depend on what the forces on the ground tell him.
“I was thinking that we could lift it [martial law]earlier but [with]the way it looks, parang may spillover na sa ARMM eh at sa Buldon [there’s a possible spillover (of the Marawi conflict) in ARMM and in Buldon],” Duterte said, referring to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Buldon, Maguindanao.
“Let us see. If it is to the interest of the country that I will lift it, I will lift it. But if not, we just have to continue with the martial law. And mind you, when I said that I leave it to the military and the police to solve the problem, ‘yun na ‘yun. Hindi na ako makialam,” he said.
“I enjoin the troops to continue being faithful to their sworn oath to protect and defend our sovereignty and our peoples, especially as martial law remains in effect in Mindanao, amid the persisting threats of terrorism and insurgency,” the President added.
Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial rule on May 23, the day the Islamic State-linked Maute group attacked Marawi City. Congress granted Duterte’s request for an extension until yearend although the President said he may still lift it even before that.
The ongoing fight has, so far, claimed the lives of 648 Islamist fighters, 133 state forces, and 45 civilians.
Duterte, in a speech on Wednesday, said that he told government troops engaged in the conflict in Marawi City that the options were theirs on how they would end the war.
“I instructed them to act slowly. But up to this time, there is stalemate. And other senators said, ‘There has to be a time when you have to stop – stopping the armed forces,'” Duterte said.
“The last time I was there, around five days, six days ago, I finally said the options is [are]already yours because we cannot have a stalemate for over one year,” he added.
The lengthy battle has allowed government forces to retake the grand mosque in Marawi City, which is deemed as a “most significant landmark.”
Military spokesman Restituto Padilla Jr. said that the troops conducted an “envelopmental approach” to ensure that the Muslim place of worship would not be damaged.
But Duterte admitted that the security personnel had wanted to bomb the mosque to expedite the operations against the Islamist fighters.
He, however, said that he reminded the state forces that they must not resort to such violence because it would only cause “more animosity and outright hostility against the government.”
“They really want to bomb the mosque to capture or kill their leaders there and in the process, sacrifice the hostages who are all Filipinos – maybe Maranao and mingling of Christians and Tagalogs,” Duterte said.
“I said no, it will just create more animosity and outright to hostility against the government. Maranaos will not forgive us…. So that’s the story why it’s taking so long,” he added.