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Politics

Duterte wants Congress to extend martial law in Mindanao

President requests joint session as expiration approaches

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has asked Congress to extend martial law in Mindanao until the end of the year.   © Reuters

MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte is seeking congressional approval to extend martial law in Mindanao through the end of this year, saying he needs more time to quash a "rebellion" in the country's south.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte has written to Aquilino Pimentel III, the Senate president, and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, both of whom are allies. The president has asked them to convene a special joint session on Saturday, when martial law is to end. Both chambers are in recess, and not due to meet again until Monday.

Duterte has consulted Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and the army chief, Gen. Eduardo Ano, and concluded the rebellion in the south will not be "quelled completely" by Saturday.

Quoting Duterte's letter, Abella said: "'For this reason, and because public safety requires it, I call upon the Congress to extend until the 31st of December 2017, or for such a period of time as the Congress may determine, the proclamation of the martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao.'"

Duterte placed the entire island of Mindanao under martial law on May 23 following a clash between government forces and militants belonging to the Maute group aligned with the Islamic State in Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city.

Because of the protracted abuse of martial law under President Ferdinand Marcos from 1972 to 1981, the Philippine constitution requires that all periods of martial law be reviewed and sanctioned every 60 days by Congress.

Parliamentary approval for martial law in Mindanao will expire on Saturday after some two months of fighting. Maute has the backing of fighters from Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and has proven more resilient than expected. As of Monday, the fighting had claimed 556 lives: 413 militants, 98 government troops and 45 civilians.

The U.S. has provided military assistance, and patrols of the Sulu Sea were launched in June in concert with Indonesia and Malaysia.

Despite sensitivities about martial law because of killings, torture and disappearances in the Marcos era, Duterte's strong hold over Congress means his request is likely to be accommodated.

On July 4, the country's Supreme Court justices also voted overwhelmingly to uphold martial law in Mindanao, which has been plagued by homegrown Islamic and communist insurgencies for decades.

There also appears to be strong public support. In a survey conducted by Philippine polling group Social Weather Stations in late June, Duterte's satisfaction rating had risen to 78% from 75% in late March.

Airlines and travel agencies have suffered cancellations, but many perceive the threat as being confined to Marawi. Conglomerate SM Investments, which has banks, shopping centers and other interests in the south, said the situation there is mostly normal. "The crisis is in a specific area, but the other parts of Mindanao continue to grow," SM President Frederic DyBuncio told the Nikkei Asian Review.

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