Can martial law end ISIS-inspired groups in the Philippines?

Noel T. Tarrazona
Noel T. Tarrazona - Special to Al Arabiya English
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The proposal to extend martial law in southern Philippines until the end of 2019 has drawn mixed response from Philippine lawmakers.

President Rodrigo Duterte and his political allies in the bicameral legislature justified the marital law request after citing violent bomb attacks in Lamitan City, Isulan Town and General Santos City in the Southern Philippine this year.

Duterte has sought the support of his political allies to extend martial law in Mindanao to quell ISIS-inspired-terror groups who continue to perpetrate hostile activities.

The government has also cited intelligence reports that militants are regrouping after the defeat of the Maute Terrorist Group in Marawi city last year. Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo has said that martial law is a necessity because government is at the cusp of ending rebellion in Mindanao.

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But not all lawmakers are convinced by the martial law request. Philippine opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman stressed that the call for extending martial law manifests failure on part of the military and police to end the rebellion.

“Requesting the martial law extension is an admission that they (military and police) have failed to achieve the supposed objectives of martial law that was first declared in 2017 to quell rising terrorism in the Southern Philippines, particularly in Marawi city”, Lagman said.

Another group of lawmakers feared that the extension of martial could lead to human rights violations in Mindanao. The legislators who opposed martial law were Ariel Casilao, Carlos Zarate and Emmi De Jesus.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government has allocated $3.4 billion for a military upgrade in the 2019 military budget. According to the defense department this is the biggest military budget in Philippine history. The said budget is 34 percent of the government budget pie for 2019.

The budget will go to defense operation programs that include border security, illegal incursions, transnational crimes and raising salaries of military personnel to attract young and talented recruits to the Armed Forces, police and other security agencies of the Philippines.

Abu Sayyaf rebels are seen in the Philippines in this video grab made available February 6, 2009. REUTERS
Abu Sayyaf rebels are seen in the Philippines in this video grab made available February 6, 2009. REUTERS

The step is in line with the government’s policy to make the country’s safety and security an essential pillar for sustained economic growth. The military hardware listed in the budget include multi-role fighter aircraft, airlifters, maritime patrol aircraft, combat utility helicopters and heavy lift helicopters for the Air Force.

For the army, the weapons and hardware on the list cover artillery, light tanks and multiple rocket launchers. The list of naval forces speaks of the acquisition of two corvettes and multi-role offshore patrol vessels, while the Marine’s list includes anti-submarine helicopters and amphibious assault vehicles.

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The acquisition of these weapons will most likely be used in the next year’s campaign to end terrorism, with the aid of martial law provisions. In the Philippines, martial law is a prerogative of the government that can be used against a rebellion.

With martial law in effect, the government suspends the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, such as in Mindanao. This means security forces can arrest terror suspects even in the absence of a warrant issued by a court.

Ongoing violence

These government measures are being taken even as sporadic violence continues in the province of Sulu between Philippine security forces and the Abu Sayyaf Group. Last week’s battle was among the deadliest this month when three Abu Sayyaf militants and one foot soldier were killed in a surprise encounter.

The encounter happened when 50 Abu Sayyaf militants fired at patrolling security forces in the municipality of Patikul in Sulu. Two marine soldiers were also reported wounded in the firefight while M-14 rifles believed to be of the Abu Sayyaf were also recovered.

Duterte’s dream is to end the rebellion and the terrorist threat before he steps down as president in 2022. His administration is hopeful that his promise will come true unlike that of his predecessors who failed to end terrorism in the Philippines.

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