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PNP, AFP recommend 1-year extension of Martial Law

Police and military officials said that extending martial law in Mindanao would greatly facilitate the rebuilding of Marawi City, which was completely destroyed by intense shelling and aerial bombing. AFP/File

MANILA, Philippines — Another year under martial law looms in Mindanao as the police and the military as well as local government units have recommended to President Duterte that it be kept in force in view of what they considered persistent terror threats.

Interior and Local Government officer-in-charge Catalino Cuy said yesterday continuing threats from terrorist groups prompted the Philippine National Police (PNP) to recommend to the President a one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao.

“We endorsed the recommendation of the PNP,” Cuy said in a text message. He did not elaborate.

PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa is on an official trip abroad and could not be reached for comment.

Duterte declared a 60-day martial law in Mindanao on May 23 after militants professing allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) laid siege to Marawi City.

The President issued the declaration from Russia where he was on an official visit.

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When the initial military rule lapsed after 60 days, the President ordered its extension until Dec. 31, citing the continued activities of IS supporters and sympathizers in several areas in Mindanao.

After the retaking of Marawi last October, Duterte said he would await recommendation from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the PNP so he could decide whether or not to keep Mindanao under martial law.

Police and military officials assessed the situation in Marawi and in the rest of Mindanao when they made the recommendation.

Last month, PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Dionardo Carlos said aside from terror threats, potential problems with other groups like crime and drug syndicates and even rebel organizations were also closely being monitored and assessed.

“The PNP will submit to the President, Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief (through appropriate channel) the appropriate recommendation/s based on the assessment and analysis of the prevailing and expected threats posed by terrorism, rebellion, separatism, drugs and crime that may undermine and put in peril the security and sovereignty in the affected areas in the country, particularly in Mindanao,” Carlos said.

Police and military officials said that extending martial law in Mindanao would greatly facilitate the rebuilding of Marawi City, which was completely destroyed by intense shelling and aerial bombing.

A source in the AFP said field commanders were convinced of the need for maintaining martial law in Mindanao at least for one year to deprive militants of the chance to regroup.

“The recommendation came from them and it went up to the leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” the source said.

For field commanders, the prevailing security development on the ground was still a cause for concern despite the liberation of Marawi City, the source said.

They cited intelligence reports showing vigorous recruitment activities by IS-inspired groups in Mindanao and even in Metro Manila.

They also cited reports that foreign and local terrorists have forged tactical alliance with the Mindanao-based New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, the source said. However, the government is still validating the reports regarding the tactical alliance between the communist NPA and the Islamic militants, the source pointed out.

Members of IS-inspired terrorists groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Abu Sayyaf are based in various areas in Central Mindanao.

The BIFF reportedly has fighters in Maguindanao and North Cotabato, and there were reports they were plotting to launch terror attacks in the two provinces.

Another terror group being closely monitored is the Khilafa Islamiyah Mindanao (KIM), which reportedly served as conduit of local terrorists to foreign jihadists entering the country.

“The field commanders are asking the President, through the defense and military leadership, to extend martial law in Mindanao the whole year starting next year,” the source said.

“Our field military commanders declared that without martial law, government forces will be facing legal challenges in running after these terrorists and their supporters,” the source said.

With Mindanao still under martial law, the writ of habeas corpus will remain suspended to allow security forces to arrest suspected terrorists and their backers or sympathizers even without warrant.

In Zamboanga City, local officials and security leaders have also agreed to endorse to President Duterte the need to extend martial law.

The Regional Peace and Order Councils (RPOCs) reached the consensus after a meeting organized by the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, RPOC chair for Region 9, said they recommended stretching martial law by another year to strengthen the fight against terrorism and threats from NPA guerrillas.

She also said the move was in support of a similar recommendation from the AFP and the national police.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque earlier said the President would announce his decision on or before Congress goes on recess on Dec. 15.

At the RPOCs conference, Salazar also requested the retention of two battalions of Marines in Zamboanga City.

Officials of the military’s Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) have reported that about 10 percent of the areas under its responsibility have large presence of NPA rebels. The areas under its jurisdiction include parts of Zamboanga peninsula, Misamis Occidental and Sultan Kudarat.

Westmincom officials also reported that while the number of Abu Sayyaf members in areas under its jurisdiction has dwindled, the notorious terror group remains a serious threat to security.

Chief Supt. Billy Beltran, Police Regional Office 9 director, said their forces in Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur have been alerted to possible attacks from NPA rebels on police stations in Misamis Oriental. – Roel Pareño

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