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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a news conference at Ninoy Aquino International Airport.   © Reuters
Politics

Duterte moots martial law for the Philippines

Describes dictatorship of Marcos era as 'very good'

MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte warned Wednesday he may declare martial law throughout the country if terrorism spills beyond Mindanao in the conflict-torn south.

Duterte proclaimed martial law in Mindanao on Tuesday night after security forces clashed with the Maute group, an Islamic State-inspired local terrorist organization that was attempting to seize Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city.
 
"If I think that the ISIS has already taken foothold also in Luzon, I might declare martial law throughout the land to protect my country," Duterte said after getting back from a shortened visit to Russia. The Philippine archipelago has three major island groups: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

The Marawi siege has killed at least 20 so far: 13 Maute rebels, five soldiers, and two police officers. Over 30 soldiers have been wounded, the armed forces said on Wednesday.

According to the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), a think tank specializing in political violence, the Maute group was founded by brothers Abdullah and Omarkhayam Romato. They began as petty criminals and became full-fledged terrorists when they founded Khalifa Islamiah Mindanao in 2012.

The Maute group pledged support for ISIS in April 2015, and is one of four Philippine groups to have aligned with the international terrorist network. The other three are a faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group, Ansarul Khilafa Philippines, and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis and Conflict said.

The government is also implementing peace agreements with factions of Moro rebels whose insurgency in Mindanao stretches back decades.

In September, the Maute group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a street market in Davao, Duterte's power base which he served as mayor and congressman for more than two decades. The blast forced Duterte to cancel an overseas trip to Brunei that would have been his first as president. The group also plotted to bomb the U.S. embassy in Manila.
 
Duterte has flirted with martial law since last year following terrorist incidents amid his ongoing war on drugs. He declared a state of national emergency in September that is still in effect.

Under martial law, the military can arrest individuals, make seizures without court warrants, and override laws governing unlawful detention. Duterte has already approved a shoot-to-kill order for law enforcers when suspected criminals resist arrest.

"If you fight us, you will die" said Duterte. "If it means people dying, so be it."

"As president, if I cannot confront them, I will resign," Duterte said. "If I am incompetent and incapable of keeping order in this country, let me step down and give the job to somebody else." Such rhetoric has raised concerns of impending dictatorship.

"Martial law of Mr Marcos was very good," Duterte said.

Marcos's dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s saw political foes detained, activists tortured, and democratic institutions dismantled. After being overthrown in 1986 by the People Power movement, Marcos went into exile in Hawaii where he died three years later.

The country's present constitution is meant to limit presidential power in relation to martial law to avert a repeat of the Marcos era. After martial law is declared, the constitution remains in force, and courts continue to operate. Martial law declarations require congressional approval, and are limited to 60 days.

Investors had mixed reactions on Wednesday. Despite a weak opening, the Philippine Stock Exchange index ended the day higher, gaining 0.33% to 7,837.82 as tensions in the south eased, and the government gained a firmer hand.

The Philippine peso, meanwhile, remained weak, closing at 49.995 pesos against the U.S. dollar from 49.820 on Tuesday.

Cliff Venzon from Manila contributed to this report.

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