The island nation of the Philippines is currently engaged in a battle with ISIS militants. The mid-sized southern city of Marawi came under heavy attack by militants on May 23, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in the southern Philippines later that night. Duterte said on May 24 that martial law may soon be imposed across the entire country.
Fighting in Marawi has already killed at least 21 people, including 13 militants, five Philippine soldiers, a security guard and two policemen, according to Philippine military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo. One of the policemen, the local police chief, was reportedly beheaded by the ISIS-affiliated militants. Members of a Marawi church have also reportedly been taken hostage and various buildings burned down including the city jail and nearby schools. Thousands of Marawi residents have fled the city to escape the violence.
Marawi is a city of around 200,000 people and is located on the Muslim-majority island of Mindanao. Most of the Philippines is Roman Catholic.
Duterte has become known for his harsh measures against suspected drug dealers and drug users. His war on drugs has left thousands dead and created an “economy of murder.” A report by Amnesty International recorded 7,000 drug-related murders in Duterte’s first seven months in office. In October, 2016, he made headlines for telling former US President Barack Obama to “go to hell” and also signaled a coming move away from the US, saying he preferred to form a closer alliance with China and Russia. In fact, Duterte was on a visit to Russia partly to secure a precision arms deal and partly to combat the ongoing militant presence in the Philippines when the attack on Marawi occurred.
A transcript of an April, 2017 talk between US President Donald Trump and Duterte was recently leaked, and shows Duterte willing to intercede with China on behalf of the US to try to stem North Korean aggression. The feeling from the call is that Duterte doesn’t want to turn away from US hegemony in Philippine affairs just yet. Trump also praised Duterte’s extrajudicial crackdown on suspected drug dealers as an “unbelievable job” which evidently pleased the Philippine leader.
Duterte’s current martial law declaration for Mindanao in the south of the Philippines affects about 22 million people. Moving to encompass the whole nation would be a dramatic step, raising human rights concerns. Former Philippine leader Ferdinand Marcos ruled with an iron fist from 1972-1986. His regime was famous for its use of martial law, extrajudicial killings and authorizing crackdowns on political opponents.
Martial law involves military authority to control public movement, search and detain anyone at any time and full suspension of habeas corpus law. The current martial law in Mindanao lasts 60 days under the Philippine Constitution.
Declaration of a state of lawlessness or state of emergency would give the military further powers under the constitution to deal with the current crisis, without granting a full removal of rights as under martial law, some experts have noted. Duterte has stated that law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear if martial law is nationally imposed, but also made it clear that he won’t hold back from killing militants en masse if it comes to that.
“Martial law is martial law,” Duterte said Wednesday. “It will not be any different from what Marcos did. I’d be harsh.”
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