MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte secured overwhelming parliamentary approval on Saturday to extend martial law in the southern island of Mindanao until year’s end as his government continues to battle with militants linked to Islamic State.
In a special joint session, the Senate and the House of Representatives voted 261-18 to extend martial rule until Dec. 31. The powerful endorsement was widely expected given Duterte’s allies in both chambers. Some members of the opposition raised concerns about martial being taken nationwide, however, and sought unsuccessfully to limit the extension to just 60 days as prescribed by the constitution.
Ansaruddin Adiong, a congressman for Lanao del Sur, where the ground zero of the clashes is located, endorsed the extension of martial law for the “eradication of terrorism” in his province.
On May 23, Duterte placed the country’s southern main island under martial law after members of Maute, a local group supported by fighters from Southeast Asia and the Middle East, took over Marawi, a mostly Muslim city. Among other things, martial law empowers the military to detain suspected militants without obtaining court orders.
Around 80 militants still control Marawi, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. Nearly 600 people have been killed: 428 militants, 105 security personnel, and 45 civilians. The fighting has displaced half a million people, mostly Muslim.
On July 18, Duterte wrote to the heads of both chambers requesting an extension until Dec. 31. The president said the military could not quell the “rebellion” in the south by July 22, when the first term of the martial law would expire.
Duterte said that although security forces had made significant headway putting down the rebellion, the leadership of local groups linked to Islamic State remained intact and a threat to national security.
“Terrorist groups from various parts of Mindanao espousing or sympathizing with the same ideology remain active and are ready to reinforce Isnilon Hapilon group or launch diversionary attacks and similar uprisings elsewhere,” said Duterte. The battle for Marawi was triggered by an attempt to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf group who has a $5 million bounty placed on him by the U.S. department of justice.
The Philippine constitution requires parliamentary approval to extend periods of martial law. The issue is particularly sensitive because President Ferdinand Marcos enforced martial law from 1972 to 1981 to perpetuate his rule and undermine political opponents and activists. The period saw severe human rights abuses.
Duterte has already overcome a legal challenge. On July 4, supreme court justices voted overwhelmingly to uphold martial law in Mindanao, which has been plagued by homegrown Islamic and communist insurgencies for decades.
The public is also firmly with the president. In a late June survey by Social Weather Stations, a local pollster, Duterte’s satisfaction rating had risen to 78% from 75% in late March.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez told lawmakers that investors are comfortable with the situation. Officials from conglomerates SM Investments and Aboitiz Power said business in Mindanao is carrying on normally.
Although airlines and travel agencies have reported cancellations and deferments, the security crisis is widely perceived to be localized. Mindanao generates 5% of national tourism revenue, and less than 20% of gross domestic product.