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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Philippines' Duterte seeks martial law extension for south

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte (C) poses for a picture with female soldiers during his visit at Bangolo town in Marawi city, southern Philippines on October 17, 2017. Reuters
Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte (C) poses for a picture with female soldiers during his visit at Bangolo town in Marawi city, southern Philippines on October 17, 2017. Reuters

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte asked Congress on Monday to extend martial law across the southern third of the country until the end of next year to combat Islamist militants and communists.

In a letter to lawmakers released by his office, Mr Duterte said extending martial law was necessary in the southern region of Mindanao to contain an ongoing rebellion by ISIL supporters as well as a rising threat from communist guerrillas.

"I ask the Congress of the Philippines to further extend the proclamation of Martial Law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao for a period of one year from 01 January 2018," the letter said.

Mr Duterte initially imposed military rule across Mindanao, which covers the southern third of the country and is home to about 20 million people, in May to quell an uprising by ISIL supporters in Marawi city.

Hundreds of gunmen rampaged through Marawi, the mainly Catholic Philippines' Islamic capital, in what authorities said was part of a campaign to establish a Southeast Asian caliphate for ISIL.

A US and Chinese-backed military campaign took five months to defeat the militants, with the conflict claiming more than 1,100 lives and leaving large parts of Marawi in ruins.

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Although Mr Duterte declared in October that Marawi had been "liberated" and military chiefs said most militant leaders had been killed, authorities have continued to warn that others who escaped are regrouping and recruiting in Mindanao.

The initial period of martial law was limited by the constitution to 60 days. But lawmakers in July endorsed an extension until the end of this year.

Martial law is an extremely sensitive issue in the Philippines, after dictator Ferdinand Marcos used military rule as a key weapon in holding onto power a generation ago.

Mr Duterte, who has praised Marcos, has repeatedly said he may impose martial law across the entire nation.

Rights groups and other critics warn Mr Duterte is destroying democracy in the Philippines with strongman rule and a war on drugs that has claimed thousands of lives.

But many Filipinos continue to support Mr Duterte, believing tough tactics are needed to solve deep-rooted problems such as the decades-long conflicts with Islamist militants and communists.

Mr Duterte enjoys overwhelming support in both houses of Congress.

Lawmakers are expected to vote on Mr Duterte's martial law extension request this week, lower house majority leader Rodolfo Farinas told AFP.