Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the southern island of Mindanao on Tuesday, after fighting between the army and an Islamic State-linked militant group, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The declaration, to take effect for 60 days, follows a battle between government troops and militants from the armed rebel Maute group, which took place in a small southern city on Tuesday.
Fighters from the group clashed with the country’s police and army after gunmen seized several buildings in Marawi, including the city jail and a hospital, subsequently setting them on fire and parading the black Islamic State flag through the city streets.
Martial law marks an escalation in a longstanding battle between authorities in the Philippines and several heavily armed Islamist groups in the southern provinces, whose jungle strongholds and deep community links in predominantly Muslim areas have made them hard to defeat despite years of efforts.
In a another incident in Marawi Tuesday, police and army units exchanged fire with gunmen while seeking to serve an arrest warrant on Hapilon Isnilon, a militant seen as a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group, another Islamist organization which has declared allegiance to Islamic State.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said during a press briefing in Moscow, where Duterte is in the middle of a four-day official visit, that the martial law was possible “on the grounds of existence of rebellion because of what is happening in Mindanao.” He didn’t give details about what conditions martial law would include.
The declaration is likely to be controversial in the Philippines, where martial law is remembered by many for its adoption by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted by popular revolt in 1986 after a 21-year rule.
Duterte floated the idea of martial law several times in the past, mostly in the context of justifying additional powers for police to continuea bloody antinarcotics campaign.
Officials said during the briefing in Moscow that Duterte would cut his visit to Russia short to return to the Philippines, but that other cabinet members would remain to continue negotiations with the Russian government.
– Contact us at [email protected]