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Martial law may not be lifted even after Marawi conflict

After the declaration lapsed in July, Congress approved the Chief Executive’s request to extend martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the region until Dec. 31. AP/Bullit Marquez, File

MANILA, Philippines — As the battle for Marawi City draws to a close, President Duterte sees no reason to lift martial law in Mindanao, citing the possibility that the violence would spill over to other areas of the region.

“I was thinking that we could, you know, lift it earlier, but the way it looks, there is a spillover of violence in the ARMM and Buldon,” Duterte said, mentioning the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao and Buldon, Maguindanao.

“Let us see, if it is to the interest of the country, and if I will lift it, I will lift it. But if not, then we’ll just continue with the martial law,” the President told the troops during the 11th founding anniversary of the Eastern Mindanao Command in Panacan, Davao City yesterday.

The rampage in Marawi forced President Duterte to declare martial law in the entire region of Mindanao on May 23.

Duterte had to cut short his trip to Russia after learning the Maute group attempted to occupy Marawi City in the bid to establish an Islamic State caliphate in the region.

After the declaration lapsed in July, Congress approved the Chief Executive’s request to extend martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the region until Dec. 31.

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In his speech yesterday, Duterte called on the military to “continue being faithful to their sworn oath to protect and defend our sovereignty, especially as martial law remains in effect in Mindanao amid the persisting threats of terrorism and insurgency.”  

He said he is leaving it up to the military to decide how it would end the fighting in Marawi.

“Mind you, when I said I leave it to the military to solve the problem, that’s it. I will not meddle anymore, except that I advised them not to pepper the mosques,” he said.

As the fighting is nearing its conclusion, it is becoming tougher for government forces to finally subdue and defeat the Maute terrorists, military said.

On the eve of Eid’l Adha or the Feast of Sacrifice, one of the holiest religious festivities being celebrated by Muslims worldwide, three soldiers were killed and 52 others were wounded as government troops continue their advance towards the main battle area in the city.

“The offensive on the eve of Eid’l Adha has been among the toughest so far. We are working to clear the remaining areas where the enemy is holding out. In yesterday’s (Thursday) operations we lost three good men and incurred 52 wounded, mostly from improvised explosive devices,” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said.

In more than three months of fighting, more than 700 have been killed on both sides.

Officials said 620 terrorists were killed and 136 soldiers and policemen lost their lives, including the three soldiers in last Thursday’s fighting.

The number of civilian fatalities, all believed to have been executed by the terrorists, remains at 45.

With escape almost impossible, the terrorists are confined in a less than one square kilometer area and are running low on food and ammunition, the military said.

Even as government forces are preparing for one final push against the Maute terrorists, the efforts have been hampered by the number of booby traps and IEDs rigged in several buildings and establishments in the city.

The terrorists are also using civilian hostages as human shields to block the advance of government forces.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the troops are inspecting each building and establishment in the area.

He said the biggest challenge facing the troops is clearing the mosques that are still occupied by the terrorists holding civilians as hostages.

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President Duterte gave the AFP the green light to decide on how to finally end the fighting in Marawi City.

With many soldiers and civilians already sacrificed in the conflict, Duterte said he had to heed the advice some lawmakers to allow the military to conduct their operations freely, even at the risk of sacrificing some more lives in the name of peace.  

“But up to this time, there is a stalemate and some senators told me: ‘You know, mayor, there must be time that you have to stop stopping the Armed Forces’,” Duterte said during a speech the 23rd anniversary celebration of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority in Taguig on Wednesday.

“The last time I was there, I finally said that the option is already yours because we cannot have a stalemate for over one year,” he added.

“I cannot generate more hatred instead of healing, but this has been prolonged already, it’s now out of my hands.”

Earlier in the day, Duterte said the military operations have entered the “final stage” and he sees an end to the fighting.

Duterte said he wants to immediately start the rehabilitation of Marawi City to allow the thousands of displaced families to return to their communities.

Duterte also revealed he has sent an emissary to reach out to the terrorists and negotiate the release of the remaining hostages.

“But I said, if they can just appeal (to the Maute) to get out and free the hostages, do not harm them, do not cut their heads because it will ignite (the fighting) anew, especially if they see the soldiers, it’s gonna be (a) bloodbath,” he said. -Christina Mendez, Jaime Laude, Roel Pareño, Michael Punongbayan, John Unson, Rudy Santos

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