Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has made it clear he wants to extend martial law on the island of Mindanao to wrap up his fight against ISIS with fewer restrictions. However, many are concerned it would be an overkill move straight from the playbook of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The ongoing push to reduce the Islamic State’s foothold in the Muslim-majority island has already displaced thousands, though insurgents are falling back. With the push for martial law, however, critics worry Duterte will prioritize further fighting over humanitarian relief in part to cement his own power, and that of the military.
Not everyone in the Filipino Congress is behind Duterte’s request. “[I]n other words, the people of Mindanao would be inconvenienced by martial law just to neutralize the 60 Mautes who are cornered in Marawi?” asked Senator Antonio Trillanes, a frequent critic of the president. “That’s a whimsical misuse of power.” The Mautes he references are a group of ISIS sympathizers led by Omarkhayam Romato Maute and one of his brothers. They’ve been joined by foreign fighters who, discouraged by the Islamic State’s losses in the Middle East, have flocked to the Philippines in recent years.
A spokesperson for the President said Duterte wanted the military to be “unhampered by deadlines, and to focus more on the liberation of Marawi and its rehabilitation and rebuilding.” However, given the brutality he sometimes displays against his own people — like in his oft-touted war on drugs — it isn’t clear how concerned with compassion or reconstruction Duterte will be if his request is granted without challenge.