MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte, on official visit to Russia, on Tuesday evening declared martial law, to last 60 days, covering Mindanao Island and associated island groups in the wake of the spiral of violence as government security forces clashed with terrorist elements earlier in the day at Marawi City.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said President Duterte would cut his official visit and added that Russia understood the decision, even as the signing of bilateral agreements would push through.
However, Duterte’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev would be postponed. They could speak on the phone, in the meantime.
As of around midnight [PH time], according to aviation sources, Putin was said to be on his way from St. Petersburg to Moscow to see President Duterte off, even as Duterte’s aircraft, dubbed PH001 whenever the President is on board, was being refueled expeditiously and provisioned for the return trip to Manila. Wheels up likely between 02:30 a.m. and 03:00 a.m. PH time Wednesday, May 24, it was added.
In a separate but related development, Quezon City Mayor Herbert M. Bautista directed security forces in Metro Manila to intensify security efforts to thwart any attempts to sow terror in the capital region.
“As National Capital Regional Peace and Order Council Chair, (I’m directing you to) please intensify security efforts (checkpoints, mobile patrols, etc.) in NCR to abate criminality and terror acts. Note that we are still within the Presidential declaration of State of Lawlessness,” he said in a text message to DILG, NCRPO and QCPD Tuesday evening.
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella disclosed at a press conference in Moscow that the details of the martial law proclamation “will be forthcoming” and that it covers the whole island of Mindanao.
Abella issued a curt statement: “Let us be clear that first and foremost, the President’s priority is the nation’s interest. He has full confidence in AFP/PNP’s management of the situation; and we ask that the residents take all precaution, cooperate with authorities, and stay calm.”
WATCH SEC. ABELLA’S ANNOUNCEMENT OF MARTIAL LAW IN MINDANAO:
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana reported that two soldiers and one policeman had been killed in the firefight.
For her part, Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo also issued a statement, saying she has faith in the Philippine Army’s ability to resolve the situation.
She added that, based on her communication with the leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, they assured that they had the situation under control, and would be able to resolve it immediately.
Robredo sought prayers for the soldiers and the residents caught in the fighting. She also directed her office to organize relief operations for the affected communities, and urged the public to contribute in whatever way they could.
Meanwhile, the military’s spokesman said government security forces are continuing their operations in Marawi City in Lanao Del Sur in a bid to finish Abu Sayyaf leader and alleged ISIS representative Isnilon Hapilon and his cohorts.
“Our operation is still ongoing in Marawi City and sporadic firefight is still continuing. We cannot provide specifics at this point,” said AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla in a statement Tuesday evening.
Padilla stressed that the joint military and police units conducting operations against the bandit chief are determined to finish him off along with his armed companions.
“We are also acting on reports of armed men occupying the hospital and some other buildings. This operation initiated earlier today by the AFP and PNP (Philippine National Police) was based on reliable information from many concerned citizens tired of terrorism and its effects,” the military spokesperson said.
The clash took place in Barangay Basak around 2:00 p.m. Initially, five security troops were reported wounded in the initial clash with Hapilon’s group which was estimated at around 15 armed men.
Padilla said there are sufficient troops and law enforcers on the ground, as well as all the appropriate equipment to support these security forces.
“We strongly urge the residents in these areas to remain calm and stay in their homes or evacuate to safer areas if they still can. We also appeal to all our citizens to continue to provide information on enemy location and their movements so we can swiftly conclude this important security operation. Our citizens have the opportunity to contribute and are encouraged to perform their patriotic duty to ensure the safety of their community,” Padilla stressed.
Hapilon had been reported severely wounded in the series of military operations in Lanao Del Sur early this January.
He is reportedly the representative of the ISIS terror group in the Philippines.
In an interview over CNN, AFP chief Eduardo Año, who is traveling with President Duterte in Moscow, said a soldier was killed and 8 others wounded in the ongoing operation as the Maute terrorist group tried to help Hapilon. (With additional reportage from Philstar, PNA and Tricia Aquino, InterAksyon)