(UPDATE 3 – 3:55 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines — The military thinks Mindanao should remain under martial law even after President Rodrigo Duterte announced Marawi City’s liberation from ISIS-linked terrorists, following the death of Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Romato Maute.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Major General Restituto Padilla on Tuesday said there were still terrorists, including about 30 armed extremists, remaining in Marawi and other parts of Mindanao and keeping Southern Philippines under military rule would help the government pursue them and fast-track case buildup against the rebels.
“Malaking dagok sa kanila ang pagkawala ng lider na si Omar, gayundin ang mga kapatid nila pero hindi nangangahulugan na wala na sila sa picture. Alam natin na may mga simpatetikong grupo pa,” said Padilla.
[The death of their leader Omar and his siblings was a big blow to them but it doesn’t mean that they’re already out of the picture. We know that are still groups sympathetic to them.]
“We would like to assure the public that we are looking forward to the return of normalcy in Mindanao but there is a greater threat here to be addressed and the need for the maintenance of martial law in some parts is very important,” he added.
Nonetheless, the issue is something that requires political decision, according to Padilla.
He said the government would consult stakeholders, including the AFP, on whether martial law is still needed in the region and the military would also submit a recommendation.
‘Mixed’ opinions, positions
According to Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, people in Mindanao have “mixed” positions and opinions on the issue of martial law in the region.
“Some say [it should be] continued, some say [it should be] lifted…soon because according to some businessmen, there were investors from abroad who would like to invest in Mindanao but are having second thoughts of going there because of martial law,” Lorenzana, martial law administrator, said on Tuesday.
“There are talks that it would be good for the President to lift martial law soon, maybe before Christmas. But let’s see. He said he would wait for my recommendation and the recommendation of the police or the DILG and the people of Mindanao. We are going to consult with them starting today,” the DND chief said.
Lorenzana added his office “will be making the recommendation maybe before the month ends.”
‘Liberated from terrorists’
Speaking to soldiers a day after the killing of the two leaders of the rebel alliance, Duterte on Tuesday said the fight was over and it was time to heal the wounded and rebuild the city of 200,000 people on the island of Mindanao.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby declare Marawi City liberated from terrorists,” the chief executive said while the Philippine flag was being hoisted and the national anthem was being sung at a war-torn public school in the city.
Hapilon, Islamic State’s “emir” in Southeast Asia, and Maute, one of two “Khalifas” at the helm of the Dawla Islamiya militant alliance, were killed in a targeted operation on Monday and their bodies had been recovered and identified, authorities said.
The 148-day occupation by Islamic State loyalists marked the country’s biggest internal security crisis in years.
Experts say the government has for years underestimated the extent to which extremism has taken root in impoverished and underdeveloped Muslim areas of the Catholic-majority Philippines.