MANILA (UPDATE) – President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday bared that he might expand the coverage of his martial law declaration to Visayas if terror groups spread their activities outside Mindanao.
This after declaring Mindanao under martial law following clashes between government troops and the Maute terror group on Tuesday.
“I may decide to expand the area to include the Visayas because it is just a walking distance actually. Because of the many islands, they can always escape there and begin another terroristic activity,” Duterte said in his speech upon arriving from Russia.
“I ordered the military and navy to embargo the islands, especially the sea that separates Mindanao from the Visayas," he said.
Visayas, which for long had been insulated from major terror attacks, was recently gripped by the arrival of members of notorious kidnapping group Abu Sayyaf in Bohol. Government forces have managed to decimate the terrorists, who had attempted to invade the popular tourist destination.
The President also said he might place the entire country under martial law if the Islamic State, to which the Maute Group has pledged allegiance, penetrates Luzon. The group has carried out deadly attacks in key cities around the world.
"If I think that the ISIS has already taken foothold also in Luzon and terrorism is not really far behind, I might declare martial law throughout the country to protect the people," Duterte said.
Along with the declaration of martial law, Duterte also suspended the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao, enabling government forces to arrest anyone charged with rebellion or invasion without a court-issued warrant.
The President also said he was mulling the imposition of curfew in selected areas in Mindanao, such as Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Cotabato and Zamboanga Peninsula.
Duterte rushed home from Russia Wednesday afternoon after declaring martial law in the entire Mindanao in response to violence in Marawi City, where a gunfight between government troops and the Maute Group had erupted a day earlier.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines said 6 government troops have died from the clashes.
Gunfights erupted Tuesday as government troops were about to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader who has been named the Philippine head of the Islamic State. The US government is offering a $5-million bounty for his capture.
The terrorists burned several structures in the city, including a Catholic church. A parish priest and several parishioners were also held hostage.
The President is mandated by the Constitution to submit to Congress his justification for declaring martial law within 48 hours of his declaration. The legislature will then conduct a review and decide by a majority vote whether to uphold or revoke the declaration.