MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday said President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of martial law in Mindanao was working to the military's advantage even as the Supreme Court weighed questions on its validity amid continuing firefights between government troops and terror groups in Marawi City.
AFP Spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla Jr. said martial rule has helped the military run after personalities being linked to the local terrorist group Maute and their local and foreign cohorts.
This even as several petitioners, among them opposition lawmakers, leftist leaders, and four Marawi women, have asked the high court to invalidate Duterte’s declaration, saying there was no basis to impose the proclamation over the entire Mindanao.
“Right now, things are working to our advantage because we don’t have to line up to get search warrants and arrest warrants,” Padilla said in a news conference in Malacañang.
With martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the military has the power to, among others, impose a curfew and undertake warrantless arrests of persons “judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in or directly connected with invasion.”
“That is a very important advantage because, in the whole of Mindanao, if suspicious people are seen to be aiding the rebellion then necessary actions can be taken immediately,” he said.
“Right now, even if they don’t have warrants you can arrest them and just file the necessary cases in court three days after," said Padilla.
Several personalities have been arrested in connection with the ongoing siege in Marawi, including Cayamora and Farhana Maute, parents of terror leaders behind the siege.
During the oral arguments on cases against martial law at the high court, magistrates sought government's clarification on the president's reasons for placing all of Mindanao under martial rule amid clashes between state troops and terrorists in Marawi City.
Petitioners, meanwhile, asserted that the president could have addressed the crisis even without declaring martial law.
In justifying his declaration, Duterte told Congress in a report that the extremists were planning to create an Islamic State province Mindanao.
Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law after local terrorist group Maute, backed by other local and foreign extremists, laid siege to the once bustling Marawi City on May 23.
Clashes erupted as government troops were attempting to arrest Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon, considered the Islamic State’s point person in Southeast Asia.
The military said the attempted arrest preempted the bigger attack that the terrorists had planned to launch at the start of the holy month of Ramadan. However, Hapilon and Maute group leaders Omar and Abdullah remain elusive to authorities.
At least 26 civilians and 59 government troops have died since the gunfights erupted, but local leaders expressed fears this could rise as more bodies remained uncollected in the battle zone.
There are also concerns that a humanitarian crisis could erupt in the city as at least 600 residents were still trapped in the battle zone, desperate for food and at risk of being executed by the militants.
Padilla, meanwhile, said the military and local government units were on heightened alert to ensure that no militant would be able to slip out of Marawi and wreak havoc in other parts of Mindanao.
“There is a heightened security measure now being enforced in Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro to check and watch closely any possible movements of suspicious persons so communities can remain safe,” he said.
“We call on the public to be partners in increasing the security posture by being vigilant and watchful of their surroundings,” he added.
Padilla, nonetheless, assured the public that the military was on top of the situation and that any remnants of the terrorist groups would not be able to launch an attack as significant as what the extremists had done in Marawi.
“Their capabilities have been significantly degraded,” he said.